How to clean up Illinois’ voter registration rolls

SHARE How to clean up Illinois’ voter registration rolls

Cook County Clerk David Orr | Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

As Cook County clerk — an office whose responsibilities include elections administration for suburban Cook County, I have championed a voter registration renaissance, driven by technology, for modernization of voter registration records, year-round registration, and more accurate voter rolls.

There is a presidential election in six months and though we’ve made tremendous strides in improving the accuracy of voter registration records in recent years, the Illinois voter rolls remain lousy and incomplete.


With the help of legislation proposed in the Illinois General Assembly, the time to ensure our voter rolls are accurate and complete is now. I applaud, therefore, the Sun-Times’ recent editorial calling on lawmakers to work together to bring automatic voter registration to Illinois.

First, the General Assembly should fund Illinois’ membership in the Electronic Registration Information Center, so that we can have access to the names of voters who have died, moved, or for whatever reason are still on our voting rolls. Without modest spending authority, our rolls will remain dirty. Plus, the state stands to lose a $400,000 grant from Pew Charitable Trusts if we don’t act on this now.

Nearly 700,000 people in Illinois remain registered at addresses where they no longer live. Another 34,000 deceased individuals have yet to be removed from the voting rolls. At least 60,000 voters who are on the rolls live in other states. Another 90,000 people are registered in Illinois — twice.

This is unacceptable. It’s time for a spring cleaning.

Second, pass automatic voter registration so that we can clean our rolls going forward. The proposed legislation, as noted by the Sun-Times editorial, would “save taxpayers money, improve the accuracy of voter registration rolls and boost voter participation.” The bill proposed by state Sen. Andy Manar also “allows for electronic voter information sharing among relevant agencies so it should result in more regularly updated voter information, including more accurate citizen addresses.”

AVR would make management of voter records and registering eligible voters much easier for elections administrators. It would make the process of voter registration — and knowing if one is registered to vote — less confusing and intimidating to voters. It would also potentially decrease

lines on Election Day.

We live in a mobile society — in 2012 more than 13 percent of Illinoisans (1,715,798 people) moved. Though my office, and county clerks across the state, have worked with the U.S. Postal Service to use change of address information to update voter records, not everyone files a change of address form when they move, and many voters mistakenly assume that their voter registration automatically moves with them.

People shouldn’t have to worry about re-registering each time they move, marry, or change their names. It’s inefficient and inconvenient. AVR would get us even closer to the point where voters would know their registration was current and administrators would have even better, more accurate voter registration records.

Government interacts with millions of people every year. Why not make those government agencies work together to make all of these pieces sync together seamlessly? Government can and must ensure all voter registration records are accurate and up-to- date and not pass that burden on to the citizens we are here to serve.

Passing automatic voter registration and funding ERIC are two clear instances where government, with the resources and technology we now have, can effectively and efficiently work for the people. Some of the technology now available to elections administrators was unthinkable some 20 years ago. We have the technology and resources to streamline and secure voter registration — why not use them?

I urge Springfield to pass AVR and fund ERIC.

David Orr is the Cook County clerk.

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