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Illinois looks to add right to vote to state constitution

A proposed constitutional amendment would establish a right to vote in Illinois. It's the latest state where voting rights could be on the ballot this fall.
A Voter enters the fire station polling place in Magnolia, Illinois,  March 20, 2012.
A Voter enters the fire station polling place in Magnolia, Illinois, March 20, 2012.

Add Illinois to the list of states where voting rights could be on the ballot this fall.

Land of Lincoln lawmakers are advancing a bill that would put a proposed constitutional amendment on voting rights before the state’s voters in November. The Democratic-controlled House overwhelmingly passed the measure Tuesday afternoon with strong Republican support, and it’s expected to pass the Senate, which also is run by Democrats.

If approved by voters this November, the proposal would add to the state’s constitution an affirmative right to register and vote.

Illinois joins Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and California, all of which may ask voters to weigh in on the issue of access to the ballot in November. But while Illinoisans and Ohioans may be considering efforts to protect the franchise, voters in those other four states could be mulling whether to impose new restrictions.

The Illinois amendment states: “No person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or income.”

That’s much vaguer language than that found in Ohio’s proposed constitutional amendment, for which voting-rights advocates are currently gathering signatures to place on the ballot. The Ohio measure would specifically bar voter ID laws and ensure a minimum number of early voting days, among other provisions.

But supporters of the Illinois amendment say it would nonetheless make it easier to challenge voting restrictions in court, by barring voting laws that disproportionately affect minorities.

The bill’s sponsors have acknowledged that Illinois hasn’t seen any serious efforts to restrict voting lately -- unlike Ohio, where Republicans recently enacted a slew of measures that make voting harder. But that doesn’t mean they won’t arise in the future, the bill's backers say.

In other states, voters will be asked whether to contract, not expand, the right to vote. Missouri Republicans have advanced a bill that would let voters decide whether to change the state’s constitution to allow voter ID -- the state’s top court ruled in 2006 that voter ID is unconstitutional. They’re also looking to pass a companion bill through the legislature that would establish voter ID, to go into effect only if voters approve the constitutional change.

Montanans will vote this fall on a GOP-backed ballot initiative that would eliminate same-day voter registration, which is one of the most effective ways to boost participation in the political process.

And in California and Nevada, conservatives are gathering signatures for initiatives that, if approved by voters, would impose voter ID. The Nevada effort is being led by Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle.

And that leaves aside several increasingly high-profile races for secretary of state, which also are shaping up as battles over voting rights. A Democratic group is offering major backing to voting rights champions in secretary of state races in four states -- Ohio, Nevada, Colorado, and Iowa.