Illinois bill would enact automatic voter registration via the DMV

A bill making its way through the Illinois legislature would automatically register citizens who interact with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to vote, making the process opt-out instead of opt-in.

Logistically, the bill is a no-brainer: The information you provide when you get your drivers license is more than enough to register you to vote — proof of residency, date of birth and a valid Social Security number, among other things. All the state has to do is pass that information from the DMV to the registrar’s office; there’s no reason to force citizens to fill out another form with largely the same information.

The DMV is also able to screen citizens and non-citizens, allaying conservative concerns that the bill will provide for fraudulent votes to be cast (and reminding them that photo ID laws do nothing to prevent non-citizens from voting, since they can apply for and obtain drivers licenses).

If passed, Illinois would become the second state with some form of automatic voter registration. Oregon passed their automatic voter registration law earlier this year — a law that is expected to add up to 300,000 citizens to the state’s voter rolls. Illinois has more than three times as many eligible voters as Oregon and is starting from slightly lower baseline registration rates, so automatic registration in Illinois could reasonably be expected to add upwards of one million voters to the state’s rolls.

There’s really no good argument against automatic voter registration other than that more voters are bad news for Republican candidates. The United States remains one of the only Western democracies that doesn’t already have universal opt-out voter registration, and registration requirements constitute a barrier to entry that produces an unrepresentative electorate — one that’s older, whiter and richer than the country as a whole. What’s more, streamlining the process as Illinois is proposing to do would make government more efficient in the kind of ways that Republicans love to talk about.

Illinois Democrats have a majority in the House and Senate, but it remains to be seen if they will be able to produce enough votes to override the veto of Republican Governor Bruce Rauner. From a small-d democratic perspective, the bill is wholly non-controversial: Citizens would provide no extra information to the government and would retain their right to opt-out of the voter registration process, while the state would enjoy a more representative electorate and, by extension, more representative elections.

This means that if the bill dies, it will be due only to big-R Republican inconveniences.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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40 Responses to “Illinois bill would enact automatic voter registration via the DMV”

  1. UncleBucky says:

    Me, too. But that doesn’t stop me from suggesting mandatory voting. If I were “king”, hahaha, I would do it just to see rethuglican heads explode.

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  3. Daddy Bear says:

    If it’s good enough to get you on jury duty, it should be good enough to get you in the polling place…

  4. 2karmanot says:

    :-) I fondly remember the times I got my ass in a ringer here and the mods, kick butt Bodhisattvas they are, were very compassionate. I’ve given up my troll stomping ways and so these days it rarely happens.

  5. 2karmanot says:

    Dang right mod…..thank you. Go Mirth!

  6. Indigo says:

    It looks to me like we’re hunkering down in exactly that kind of legislative massacre. It feels like a variation on the last days of the Carter administration except for the part where I really didn’t see the Conservative Tsunami coming until it was already washing away the opportunities I valued at the time. This time I see it coming. But . . . there’s no high ground handy. Dang!

  7. Bill_Perdue says:

    ‘Early and often’ is a given.

  8. rmthunter says:

    I was sure you were going to add “. . . early and often.”

    And, completely offside, domu.com is running ads on the CTA with famous people looking for particular kinds of housing. One is: “Mrs. O’Leary looked for a place with a sprinkler system.”

  9. Bill_Perdue says:

    Especially Mrs. O’Leary and her cow.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    They only pass when the left is powerful enough to terrify them and then, over time the right tries to undo them. Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, union organizing and curbing wars of aggression are examples.

  11. Bill_Perdue says:

    I’m glad you take the time to comment here, Mirth.

    You and I have different political backgrounds that will lead us to disagree, even if those disagreements are rare. I want to thank you for being one of the people who help make malevolent personal attacks less popular here. I’m not sure that anyone can curb them and I wouldn’t like to see people cut off from commenting just because they have a nasty temper and are blinded by partisanship.

    We’ve lost quite a few very good commenter’s because of personal attacks – they just don’t see the point of exposing themselves to malicious personal attacks, however ineptly put.

  12. Indigo says:

    Good ideas are rare and rarely pass the contrarian ideology of the opportunists who run for office with the intention to do harm to others.

  13. Bill_Perdue says:

    Political democracy isn’t possible in the absence of economic democracy – socialism.

    The US is not a democracy, it’s a plutocracy ruled by the rich using the Democrat and Republican parties as their instruments.

    Proof on file.

    “A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

    For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often. It’s beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, ‘the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.”

    http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/new_study_finds_the_us_is_not_a_democracy_so_what_is_it_20140417

    Former US Senator Gary Hart “Our Founders created a republic and, being keen students of the history of republics beginning with Athens, they knew that placing special and narrow interests ahead of the common good and the commonwealth was the corruption that destroyed republics. They feared this kind of corruption as the greatest danger to America’s success and survival.”

    “By this standard, today’s American Republic is massively corrupt. Every interest group in our nation has staff lobbyists and hires lobbying firms. Thousands of lobbying firms now penetrate the halls of Congress as well as all State capitols and city halls. Those same lobbying firms collect funds for election and re-election campaigns. In exchange, they have access to legislatures and administrations, those who write the laws and make the regulations.”

    “If the national presidency were to pass back and forth between two or three families in any Latin American nation we would call it an oligarchy.” http://time.com/3826278/gary-hart-dare-we-call-it-oligarchy/

  14. Bill_Perdue says:

    Contrary to the views of Democrats, Republicans are not the only people suppressing the vote.

    Both parties have passed laws making it difficult of impossible for left parties to get on the ballot, get equal time and raise money. Both of those parties are pro-capitalist and their central goal it to protect and enlarge the wealth of the rich. They don’t want to give expression to the growing sentiment for socialists ideas and the rapid growth of sentiment against the twin right wing Democrat and Republican parties

    58% “think the Republicans and Democrats do such a poor job of representing the people that a third party is needed.” http://www.gallup.com/poll/143051/Americans-Renew-Call-Third-Party.aspx

    The highest number of voters in history are registered as independents, 34%. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/partisan_trends

    Only 52% of Americans react favorably to the word “capitalism,” while 29% react favorably to the word “socialism.” Among 18-30 year olds, supporters of socialism and capitalism are evenly divided at 43% each! Support for socialism is dramatically higher among women, blacks, and people who make less than $30,000/year. http://people-press.org/2010/05/04/socialism-not-so-negative-capitalism-not-so-positive/

    (The three links above via http://www.socialistalternative.org/2014/01/28/polls-u-s-public-opinion/ )

    Where socialists do get on the ballot we do very well pressing our campaign for a decent minimum wage instead of the contemptuous anti-worker proposals of the Democrats and Republicans. We’re also using our campaigns to build unions and to connect the fight for $15 with organizing efforts in low pay industries. In the process we are defeating Democrats and Republicans. That’s a good thing. The fewer Democrats and Republicans in office the better off working class people will be. http://labornotes.org/2013/12/2013-review-aiming-higher-labor-tries-new-angles-and-alliances

  15. rmthunter says:

    I think the point of the article is not quite what you seem to be assuming: ID is not required to vote here*: the last couple of elections, I’ve just given them my name, signed an affidavit, they checked my signature against the signature on record, and I got a ballot. (I seem to remember a couple of times when I was asked for ID, but it’s not been consistent — seems to depend on the poll worker.)

    * Found an article on when you need an ID to vote in Illinois: http://www.chicagoelections.com/en/when-you-need-id-to-vote.html

    As far as I know, you can still register directly with the Board of Election Commissioners; you just have to provide proof of residence and age. They even print the address of your polling place on your registration card. This bill is designed simply to make registration more convenient for those who are getting an ID or driver’s license anyway. (And another note: state IDs for senior citizens are free and don’t expire.)

  16. rmthunter says:

    I’m remembering a different story — when I moved last year, I went to get a new ID, and they changed my voter registration as well — I got a new voter’s registration card in the mail. Of course, I’m in Chicago, where they really do want people to vote.

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  19. mirth says:

    Jon, thanks for acknowledging my apology with your ^vote. Seriously nice of you to do that.
    I work at my computer, today as usual doing several things at once plus catching up on blog reads and other news including the new IRS hack, and yesterday I renewed by car registration online. Somewhere in there is the root of this major goof. Henceforth, I promise to read more carefully what you have to say.

  20. Jon Green says:

    To be clear, the DMV bill isn’t “my idea.” I’m on the national ID card/universal auto-voter reg train right along with you.

  21. BeccaM says:

    In what country? I’d be shocked if such a thing were ever to pass as law here in America.

  22. BeccaM says:

    In one way, this would all potentially be resolved if, like many countries in the world, the United States had a single universal, uniform ID card, issued regardless of driving status or anything else.

    Those with birth certificates could produce that. Those without could have a list of other common documentation — or simply require some kind of notarized affidavit attesting to citizenship status. Basically to put the honus on proving someone doesn’t have the right to vote rather than making the person prove they do. After all, voting fraud is so incredibly rare as to be non-existent, and most often when it happens it’s because someone is confused about where they’re allowed to vote.

    Right now though, what we have is a regime where someone who can’t get a birth certificate or who has an error on their BC or who over the course of their lifetime lost direct correspondence with the name on that BC (and know who that affects mainly? women who took their husbands’ surnames) ends up being S.O.L. — unless they also have a pile of money to clear up the legal paperwork mess. Which again affects the poor and elderly disproportionately.

    In the end though, you know who opposes the notion of a national ID? Conservatives and Republicans.

    I’m not saying Jon’s idea is bad either. One should have to have to work at opting out of being registered to vote, and having a DL and voter registration linked is a good idea. But there are indeed a great many other avenues to find potentially eligible voters.

  23. UncleBucky says:

    And it goes without saying, mandatory voting is the way of the future. Fines if you don’t (of course with exceptions for those who mentally or physically could not vote). Election Day holiday. Public funding of elections. 3 months campaigning before elections. National ID for voting, purchasing property or large items, filing documents, signing contracts, work, education, health, etc.

    Remove the corruption of those who have been co-opting the election cycle for centuries.

  24. UncleBucky says:

    Illinois here… yep and yep.

    Yep, it makes sense. I just changed addies and voted after that. I had to walk my papers from new utilities bills to DMV to Registration. Fun stuff. Imagine taking a few steps out?

    Yep, Rauner will veto it, since he’s a Rethuglican who wants those who move more frequently not to be able to vote.

  25. FLL says:

    OK, I was not clear enough in one of my comments to Jon downthread. I mentioned that if there was a question about whether someone was a citizen or not, the DMV could get that information from the Department of Homeland Security (formerly called the Department of Immigration and Naturalization). I mentioned that in a direct comment to Jon’s post, not in a reply to a comment from anyone else. I really didn’t understand what was wrong with my suggestion, but to be very clear, I apologize for any rudeness in my comments downthread.

    My comment was not clear enough because I didn’t explain my reasons for making the comment. The reason that I brought this up is because the media and Internet are barraged with constant objections about non-citizens voting (from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Republican governors et al), and these objections are used as justifications for a wide range of repressive voter-ID laws.

  26. FLL says:

    The link you included is gold. When I read Jon’s post, I was thinking more along the lines of convenience and ease of registering to vote for all those people who drive. Now that I read the article you linked to, I can see the inadequacy of only relying on the DMV-voter bill that Jon is talking about. Yes, the DMV-voter bill is an improvement, but I can appreciate the large number of folks who wouldn’t be helped. Ideally, your suggestion of requiring only a a lease, mortgage or utility bill to register to vote is the best solution that I’ve heard. I don’t think Jon’s post is useless because it points the way to an improvement for the huge number of drivers in the country. But there are all those non-drivers, such as the folks mentioned in your linked article: people of color, people with disabilities, non-English speakers, elderly people, low-income folks and students. I’m in agreement with you that part of the solution does not equal the complete solution.

  27. BeccaM says:

    Here’s the problem: It is not uncommon for states that issue licenses and/or photo IDs through their DMV to require a birth certificate or other proof you are who you say you are. More than a few elderly folks, especially in poverty-stricken areas, cannot get that voter ID because they lack a birth certificate. Or flat out can’t afford it.

    http://rhrealitycheck.org/ablc/2014/10/16/well-actually-pretty-hard-people-get-photo-id-just-vote/

  28. FLL says:

    I did a quick check of a few states, and I don’t think there are any states that require you to present a birth certificate. That would be outrageous. I don’t even think I have a copy of my birth certificate, although I have a passport. So if a driver’s license or other photo ID is all you need, I see no reason why the DMV shouldn’t be able automatically register voters. Jon’s post makes sense.

  29. mirth says:

    Thanks, mod.

  30. Moderator4 says:

    Mirth is far from an RNC shill. She is a very, very longtime commenter here.
    Be careful about whom you accuse of what.

  31. BeccaM says:

    I hear ya. The United States is one of the few countries that claims to be a vibrant democratic republic that nevertheless allows its politicians (mostly the conservative ones) to put barriers in the way of voting.

    It’s better than it was, back in the Jim Crow days and before the amendments to extend the vote to women and everyone 18 years old and up. But how anybody can look at the voter ID laws being proposed and not see obvious voter suppression going on — in the form of de facto poll taxes, as I said, as well as not particularly caring whether people who don’t have birth certificates can register — is beyond me.

    Of course it’s going to be tortured logic from the GOPers. They can’t present a valid reason for these laws which purport to address a problem which does not exist. Reminds me a lot of the current anti-marriage equality arguments where they claim it’s because marriage is for breeders and no one else. When they give the real reasons — they just don’t like gay people or, in this case, they don’t want liberals, progressives, and Democrats to vote — their positions are built on moral quicksand.

  32. FLL says:

    All excellent suggestions. Better suggestions than the DMV-voter bill that’s in front of the Illinois legislature at the moment, but the DMV-voter bill is what Illinois has got right now, and it’s better than nothing. I still like the idea of using a lease, mortgage or utility bill to register, but see how far that idea get’s with Republican legislators. They will always use some tortured logic to shoot down the idea. Wait. Tortured logic? Didn’t I already use that phrase on this thread?

  33. BeccaM says:

    Not bad, but there’s more that could be done, without requiring the de facto poll-tax of the driver’s license. One could also automatically be registered to vote:

    – Upon submitting a state tax return (which will have the same information)
    – When applying for any kind of state-supplied benefits such as WIC, SNAP, and so on

    And of course, it should be possible to register simply by providing proof of residence in the form of a lease, mortgage, or utility bill.

    The problem, as ever, of course is there are people in this country who do not want everyone to vote. In the past, it was mostly garden-variety racists and xenophobes, but nowadays it’s basically (1) the Republican party and (2) wanting to exclude everyone who is prone not to vote Republican.

  34. FLL says:

    (1) Your social security number is not on your driver’s license.
    (2) Where, in Jon’s post, does he suggest that social security numbers be posted online.

    These are all such obvious Republican talking points, and very weak talking points at that.

  35. FLL says:

    Good talking point for the Republican National Committee.

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  37. mirth says:

    Brilliant! Let’s get Homeland Security involved! Or maybe they will stay out of the elections process and just give DMV employees free access to their database and other intelligence records. Easypeasy. :/

  38. mirth says:

    Sure, I see no prob with all the country’s voters leaving their SS# online, although I am curious about who at the DMV will prevent that gilded hack (not who will investigate it after the fact).

  39. FLL says:

    I don’t see what possible excuse Governor Rauner could make for vetoing the bill. The DMV records could easily be crosschecked with Homeland Security to see who has U.S. citizenship and who only has legal residency. Has Rauner even bothered to offer a pretext?

  40. emjayay says:

    The whole voting system should be, and easily could be, brought into the modern age. This is one bit, but what has happened in Republican ruled states has been going in the opposite direction and eliminating all improvements already made in recent decades. At the other end, national popular voting and eliminating the archaic by at least a century Electoral College would be a big step in the right direction.

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