A federal appeals court Friday cleared the way for same-day voter registration to resume in Illinois, tossing a challenge to the new law back to a lower court.
The ruling is likely to have no immediate effect, since the next election is not until the March primaries.
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated an injunction a U.S. District Court judge granted last year to former Downstate congressional candidate Patrick Harland, barring implementation of the law.
The opinion Friday stated that, given the amount of time until another election in the state, the injunction was no longer needed and the case’s proceedings in the Illinois Northern District Court could continue.
“We heard oral argument in these appeals on May 30, 2017, more than five months after the 2016 general election,” the opinion stated. “That naturally raises the question whether the case is moot.”
Illinois tested same-day registration in the 2014 governor’s race, with all election authorities required to offer it in at least one location. It was popular, with long lines on Election Night, particularly in Chicago. When lawmakers made same-day registration permanent the next year, they expanded it, ordering highly populated areas to make it available at all polls.
That change is at the heart of the August 2016 federal lawsuit brought by Harland and other Downstate Republicans, who argue it’s an unfair and unequal system because voters in less populated and GOP-leaning areas don’t have equal access.
They’re asking a judge to end all precinct-level Election Day registration, which would impact voters in 21 of 102 counties and five cities: Chicago, Aurora, Rockford, Bloomington and East St. Louis.
In September 2016, U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan granted Harlan and the other plaintiffs’ motion for an injunction, saying they had shown that “low-population counties without electronic polling books will be harmed by the [Election Day Registration System].”
However, the appeals court noted that, “There is plenty of time at this juncture for the district court to consider this case without invoking its extraordinary equity powers.”
The next hearing in the federal case is scheduled for Oct. 31.
Contributing: Associated Press