Automatic Voter Registration Will Give a Voice to Nearly 2 Million Eligible Citizens in Illinois
by Zach Koutsky, Legislative & Political Director
Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers
There are few things Illinois gets right these days, but we can rightfully point with pride to recent strides in expanding access to the ballot box. With same day voter registration and expanded early voting, Illinois has been a national leader in ensuring its citizens have a full chance to participate.
We have a chance to continue that leadership and build on the progress by passing Automatic Voter Registration (AVR), a law that would ensure every eligible citizen becomes registered to vote when they receive or renew their driver’s license or state ID, unless they choose to opt-out.
The registration system we use today puts the burden on citizens to claim their right to vote. It can often be confusing, and is unfair to modern families that move more often, such as those attending college or serving in the military. A recent study on Google search terms for “how to register to vote,” relative to registration deadlines, found that nearly 4 million more people would have voted in the 2012 elections if not for antiquated registration deadlines. In Illinois, there are nearly 2 million eligible citizens who are not registered to vote.
Automatic voter registration would make elections more modern and fair by streamlining and simplifying the process, eliminating the burden on citizens to find out how, when, and where to register in each election. By automating the registration system and eliminating the old paper registration system, AVR would save money and make elections more secure. In Maricopa County, Arizona, processing electronic voter registration costs 3 cents per voter, compared to 83 cents per voter for processing paper registration cards.
Oregon and California enacted AVR last year. More recently two other states, West Virginia, and Vermont passed automatic voter registration with broad bi-partisan support. Each of these bills focused on automatic voter registration at its core because of its simplicity, broad support, and potential for revenue neutrality.
Recently, UFCW Local 881 has partnered with iVote and State Senator Andy Manar (D-Buker Hill) to conduct, what hopefully will be, Illinois’ last voter registration drive by passing Automatic Voter Registration (SB250) in the Land of Lincoln. In doing so, we will also help break the partisan gridlock that has paralyzed Springfield.
iVote is a grassroots organization created with one goal: secure voting rights for all Americans. Traditionally, most voting rights groups have focused on challenges in court after rights had been impinged, or defeating efforts to further erode rights. iVote takes a different tack – ‘flipping the script’ from playing defense on voter suppression efforts to going on offense to secure and expand access to voting.
What would AVR do in Illinois? As iVote explains it, eligible citizens currently have the choice to register to vote when they get their driver’s license through motor-voter provisions. This ‘opt-in’ process leaves room for many eligible voters to remain unregistered despite this opportunity. With automatic voter registration, every eligible voter will be automatically registered when they get a driver’s license. If a person does not want to register to vote, he or she can ‘opt-out.’ If passed, automatic registration could add millions of voters to the rolls, increase turnout and strengthen participation.
There is strong bi-partisan support for this legislation. iVote has conducted extensive polling in multiple states and found while other electoral reforms provisions are more controversial, automatic voter registration enjoys wide and deep support, including majorities among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Earlier this year, they asked legislators and legislative candidates in Illinois to sign a pledge supporting the automatic voter registration bill. The pledge yielded massive backing, including pledges to support automatic voter registration from candidates on both sides of the aisle.
In May, Sen. Manar’s SB250 was approved by both the Illinois Senate and House with strong support from both Republicans and Democrats. Secretary of State Jesse White, a Democrat, whose office would be primarily charged with registering the millions of citizens who interact with it annually, is in support of the bill and Governor Rauner has said that in principal, he supports the legislation, again showing strong bi-partisan support for this policy.
This may seem to be an odd issue for a local Union to prioritize in Springfield in a year of epic ideological struggles, but each year a third of Local 881’s members will find themselves unable to participate in our democracy because they are unregistered to vote. This is a reality, despite being a member of a Union, like Local 881, that prioritizes voter registration and electoral engagement.
Why is that?
Local 881 members are representative of the emerging electorate in that they are younger, diverse in race and ethnicities, and live in urban areas. That mirrors the same population that is often disenfranchised by Illinois’ burdensome and intransigent voter registration requirements. That includes 42% of African Americans, 54% of Hispanics, and 59% of 18-24 year olds. Nationally, over 40% of eligible citizens making under $40,000 a year are not registered to vote. In short, those whose voice is most shut out are the biggest beneficiaries of their elected representatives in Springfield being attuned to their needs and enacting pro-worker policies.
Beyond the enfranchising power it will grant to our 34,000 hardworking members, we also think passing AVR has a unique ability to break the partisan gridlock that is freezing progress in Springfield. By engaging millions of disaffected and disconnected voters in every community in Illinois, AVR could be the tool that breaks the logjam of partisan battles and help spur legislative cooperation because there is a huge new electorate that our elected representatives now have to answer to.
Going on offense is critical as we move deeper into the 2016 election cycle. Unfortunately, we continue to see efforts by Republicans to suppress, discourage, and block citizens from exercising their fundamental right to vote. With Governor Rauner’s signature, Illinois could host its “Last Voter Registration Drive” by enacting Automatic Voter Registration to benefit all of our citizens and our democratic process.
Call Governor’s Rauner’s office today: 217-782-02444. Tell him to sign the Automatic Voter Registration bill (SB250) into law.
I encourage you to learn more about this issue and read about the SB250 legislation. You can find information at ivoteforamerica.org.
Local 881 UFCW represents 34,000 members employed in retail food and drug stores throughout Illinois and Northwest Indiana, as well as a professional division comprised of health and nursing home workers, barbers and cosmetologists, and workers in other retail and service industries. Among the companies under contract with Local 881 are Jewel Food Stores, Osco Drug, Mariano’s Fresh Market, CVS Pharmacy, Kroger, Schnucks, Dierbergs, and many smaller chains and independent stores, as well as nursing homes and other business establishments. Local 881 is among the largest affiliates of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 1.3 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.