A voter casts her ballot for the U.S. midterm elections at a beauty salon used as a polling station in Chicago on Nov. 4, 2014
Jim Young/Reuters

Illinois makes it easier to vote

State laws that make it harder to vote have rightly been getting all the attention lately. But more quietly, just as many states are expanding access to the polls. Illinois is likely to be the next to do so.

A new bill passed Thursday by the legislature makes it easier for Illinoisans—especially those who have been marginalized from the process—to cast a ballot. It extends same-day voter registration to Election Day, expands early voting, knocks down barriers to student voting and modernizes the registration process.

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Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat who will leave office early next year, is expected to sign the bill. Grant Klinzman, a spokesman, said the governor is reviewing it.

“It’s really important, given the wave of restrictions we’re seeing throughout the country, that states like Illinois are leading the way and removing barriers to voting,” said Marissa Liebling of the Just Vote coalition, a broad alliance of civil rights, labor and good government groups that was instrumental in drafting the bill and getting it passed.

The bill passed mostly along party lines in the legislature, where Democrats hold large majorities.

Illinois has suffered from low rates of voter participation. The bill aims to fix that through several provisions. Most important, it allows people to register and vote on Election Day—a key method for bringing new voters into the process. (Previously, same-day registration had been available only during early voting). Thousands of people across the state took advantage of a pilot program on Nov. 4.

Abe Scarr, the director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, said that step “will help Illinois to operate under a simple idea—that anyone who wants to vote and is eligible should be able to participate in our electoral process.”

“Election Day registration helps engage and empower new voters, including young voters and naturalized citizens, many of whom are casting a ballot for the first time,” said Lawrence Benito of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. “If we want immigrant communities to be full participants in the democratic process, Election Day registration is a key ingredient.”

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The bill also requires that agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles and others use new technology to improve online voter registration and modernize the system. Many states’ voter registration systems are hampered by outdated technology.

In addition, the bill expands early voting in the state, adding evening hours and an additional Sunday when voting will be allowed. And it requires that state universities allow early voting on campus, to make it easier for students, typically a group with low turnout rates, to get to the polls.

The bill’s passage follows a successful voter initiative, passed last month, that establishes broad voting protections in the state constitution.

Illinois joins 15 other states, most controlled by Democrats, that have passed laws expanding access to the polls in the last two years, according to a tally by the Brennan Center. Among the most far-reaching was a Colorado law that contained several provisions that are similar to Illinois’.

Early Voting and Illinois

Illinois makes it easier to vote