As Democrats claim the GOP is trying to suppress voter turnout in the deep-red south, Republicans are making the same complaint about Democrats in the deep-blue state of Illinois.
Last week, a federal district court judge blocked state elections officials from carrying out election-day voter registration at polling precincts, as required by a state law passed in 2014. Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan concluded that the law would unconstitutionally decrease the political representation of rural residents while assisting voters in urban counties.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has asked the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay of the district court’s ruling pending an appeal.
“The district court’s injunction makes it harder for some 84 percent of Illinois citizens to vote in the upcoming general election,” the attorney general’s court brief said. “The court should stay the injunction pending appeal because voters and election officials alike have been expecting – since 2014, when the (election-day registration) statute was passed – that registration will be available at the polls on election day, and have planned accordingly.”
The Liberty Justice Center, which filed the lawsuit challenging the state’s election-day voter registration law, vowed to fight on. “This is a scheme designed to boost Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout,” Jacob Huebert, the center’s senior attorney, told AMI Newswire.
The 2014 law requires counties with populations of 100,000 or more to provide election-day voter registration at all polling places, but it does not place the same mandate on counties with smaller populations. All counties, however, are mandated to allow residents to register to vote on election day at their central voting headquarters.
Supporters of the law have claimed that they wanted to give smaller counties a way to opt out of the law’s polling place provisions, since to do otherwise might cause a financial burden. Opponents, however, dispute the idea that polling-place registration would have overly burdened more rural counties.
Huebert said that because rural areas tend to vote Republican and urban areas tend to back Democrats, the effect of the law would be to increase voter turnout in high-population areas, thereby inflating the vote for candidates who are registered Democrats.
The Liberty Justice Center argues that the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment because of the unequal treatment of voters in larger counties vs. smaller counties.
Huebert also said that, “Six other states, including Illinois’ neighbors Wisconsin and Iowa, give all of their citizens the right to register and vote at their local polling places. They don’t favor voters in some counties over voters in other counties.”
Der-Yeghiayan said in last week’s ruling that the effect of the legislation is to dilute the vote of those living in rural counties.
"While it may be true that the polling place registration option can assist voters in certain populous counties, that option cannot be provided at the expense of lower population counties, thereby decreasing their political representation in Illinois,” he said.
The last day to register in person or by mail for the Nov. 8 presidential election in Illinois is Oct. 11, but those with Illinois driver’s licenses or state identification cards can register up to Oct. 23. What’s called grace period registration and voting, however, is allowed at certain locations from Oct. 12 to Nov. 7.
Cook County Clerk David Orr criticized the federal district court decision last week, saying it would lead to confusion at polling places on Nov. 8.
“This lawsuit was a thinly veiled partisan effort by the right-wing Illinois Policy Institute to disenfranchise voters,” Orr said in a prepared statement.
He said that election-day registration had worked well when it was carried out during the March primary. A total of 110,000 voters around the state took advantage of the option in March to cast ballots, Orr said.
“EDR has been the law in Illinois since 2014, and voters have come to rely on it,” he said.
Huebert said that as long as the federal district judge’s decision is in force, election-day registration cannot go forward. If the attorney general gets the law reinstated through an appeal, larger counties would have to ramp up efforts to ensure that same-day registration procedures were in place.