Chicago – Warning against the possible disenfranchisement of thousands of Illinois voters, five civil rights organizations today asked a federal court to preserve Election Day registration (EDR) in local polling places in advance of the November presidential election. Noting that the race for the White House, as well as races for the United States Senate from Illinois and countless local campaigns, will generate high voter turnout in our state, the groups urged a federal judge not to block the system of EDR set for use in less than three months. The groups warn that barring the use of EDR will “make it impossible for many voters to vote.”
The request comes in an amicus brief filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Better Government Association, the League of Women Voters of Illinois and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform in Harlan v. Scholtz, an effort by a Congressional candidate to block implementation of the current EDR system approved by the legislature, piloted during the 2014 general election, and used in the March 2016 primary election.
Andy Shaw, President and CEO of the Better Government Association said “Too many Illinois residents are disengaged from the democratic process and we pay a high price for that. We need more engaged voters, not fewer. We need to make the process of voting easier, not harder. Let’s expand election day registration to polling places that don’t have it, not take it away from polling places that do.”
The civil rights groups take no position on the constitutional claims raised in the lawsuit. Patrick Harlan, a candidate for Congress in the 17th Congressional District, and the Crawford County Republican Central Committee are challenging the state’s current EDR system, which requires counties with a population of more than 100,000 to provide voter registration at each polling location, while smaller counties must offer EDR only at one or two locations. That means that only 20 of the state’s 102 counties currently are mandated to offer EDR at all polling places, but those counties include nearly 84% of the Illinois population. The plaintiffs have asked a Chicago federal district court judge to block the use of EDR in all precinct polling places while the questions raised are being litigated.
The brief notes the groups’ shared argument, noting that “(t)he public interest weighs heavily against this last-minute constriction of the franchise, and plaintiffs have not come close to showing an irreparable harm that outweighs the public interest in ensuring access to the vote for the broadest possible range of eligible voters.”
Yesterday’s brief notes that nearly 9,000 (8,958) Illinois voters took advantage of same day registration during the pilot program in 2014, many of whom were new voters, had recently moved, or had experienced glitches when they tried to register previously. That number exceeded 100,000 in the March 2016 primary elections and is expected to climb significantly during the 2016 general election.
The groups specifically urge the court to reject the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction barring the use of EDR in local polling places in November, and suggest that if the court feels an injunction is required, that EDR be equalized for November 2016 by extending the practice to polling places where it is not currently offered.
The case is being heard by Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan.