President Obama endorses automatic voter registration in Illinois

Speaking to the Illinois General Assembly yesterday, President Obama came down hard in favor of a bill the state’s legislature is considering that would automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies:

Obama endorsed the legislation as part of a broader call for electoral reform, including changes to our campaign finance system and the implementation of non-partisan redistricting. However, while reducing the influence of money in politics, making elections more competitive and making it easier to vote all seem like relatively straightforward, non-controversial ideas, Illinois Republicans aren’t sold on all of them. From Ari Berman at the Nation:

President Obama speaking to the Illinois General Assembly, screenshot via YouTube

President Obama speaking to the Illinois General Assembly, screenshot via YouTube

These ideas sound like common sense, but have become surprisingly contentious. Obama noted that Republicans in the Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature applauded his remarks on gerrymandering but not on voting rights. “Now, this shouldn’t be controversial, guys,” Obama said. “You liked the redistricting thing, but not letting people vote. I should get some applause on that, too.”

Damn right he should. There is no good reason for states not to switch from opt-in to automatic/opt-out voter registration. In Illnois alone, the law would add between 300,000 and 1.1 million people to the state’s voter rolls (Dick Durbin won his election to the Senate in 2014 by just under 400,000 votes). The fact that most of these new registrants would happen to be Democrats explains Republicans’ refusal to applaud, but that only underscores the point that opposition to automatic voter registration is strictly partisan. No one can come up with a good argument against it that doesn’t boil down to “I don’t want Democrats to win.”

Which means that the rules of the game have become a partisan issue when they really shouldn’t be.

In any case, the fact that automatic voter registration now has the official approval of both the current president and both Democratic presidential candidates is a testament to the growing momentum to pass it in states around the country. Earlier this week, Connecticut became the 15th state to introduce automatic voter registration this year — in addition to Oregon and California where it has already passed. As the general election approaches, expect continued momentum on this front in the months to come.


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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