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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