SPRINGFIELD-Buoyed by bipartisan support, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s plan to amend the Illinois Constitution to ban voter suppression overwhelmingly passed the Illinois House Tuesday.
The measure, which needed 71 votes to pass, cleared the House on a 109-5 roll call and now moves to the Senate.
“The intent of this constitutional amendment is to provide in Illinois, constitutionally, that voter-suppression laws would not be permitted,” said Madigan, D-Chicago. “Some might say, ‘Well, today in Illinois, you don’t need this. Voter suppression wouldn’t happen in Illinois.’
“We don’t know that,” Madigan continued. “We don’t know what the future holds. What we do know is we can constitutionalize the protection of the right to vote.”
Tuesday’s House vote comes after last year’s move by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a central piece of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, giving southern states whose elections were monitored by the federal government since the civil rights era new authority to set their own registration and voting laws without approval from Washington.
That decision by the nation’s high court has empowered GOP-led states like North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas to impose new voting standards that analysts have said could suppress Democratic turnout in those states.
The House-passed measure put Illinois Republicans, who were led in supporting Madigan’s plan by House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, in a politically awkward spot since it aims to avert some of the same voter-registration policies being put into place outside Illinois by GOP governors and legislatures.
State Rep. David Reis, R-Willow Hill, voiced concern that the push by Madigan was merely an attempt to short-circuit a move by GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner to get his signature-driven, term-limits constitutional amendment on the fall ballot.
Reis, who voted against Madigan’s plan, also said there is no evidence Illinois is currently engaging in any form of voter suppression.
“This is a constitutional amendment in search of a problem,” Reis said.
Durkin, who did not speak during floor debate, joined Madigan’s legislation as a co-sponsor Tuesday, and the speaker lavished praise on his GOP counterpart, comparing him to one of Illinois’ late, great Republican politicians: U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen.
Lobbied by then-President Lyndon Johnson, Dirksen, then the Senate minority leader, provided pivotal GOP support that helped get the 1964 Civil Rights Act out of Congress. Dirksen co-authored the law and helped end a filibuster by southern Democrats opposed to the law.
“I think it’s very, very appropriate Rep. Durkin joins me in this effort, given the history of another Illinois Republican: Sen. Everett Dirksen, of Pekin, Ill.,” Madigan said.