When I was in law school, I saw voting access as a problem limited to some former Jim Crow states and others that followed their lead. But after joining the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights as a legal fellow last summer, I have seen firsthand the barriers that Black and Latino communities in Chicago too often encounter when trying to cast their ballots.

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These obstacles come in two categories. The first can be fixed when civil rights lawyers and government administrators work together to enforce the law – problems like language barriers, voter intimidation, missing ballots and long lines at the voting booth. The second category has to do with voter registration, a problem that’s subtler but in some ways more insidious because it is enshrined in Illinois law. In the 19thcentury, states like Illinois changed existing law to burden voters—rather than the government—with complex registration requirements in efforts to disenfranchise freed slaves and ethnic European immigrants. The discrimination planted in these laws continue to bear fruit, making it difficult for people of color to vote today.
The good news is that Illinois could soon pass a law — Senate Bill 1933 — that would shift the burden of registration from voters to the government and vastly expand access for many of these communities by creating Automatic Voter Registration. AVR would modernize our voting system by allowing eligible voters to register to vote whenever they interact with state agencies.

National research shows that Latino and black voters move significantly more often than whites, putting their registration status continuously in peril. Blacks and Latinos are also much less likely to have driver’s licenses and state IDs than whites, making traditional motor voter protections less effective. With race disparity in voter registration hovering at 50 percent higher in Illinois than nationwide, AVR would be a huge step in fulfilling the ideals of our democracy and guaranteeing the right of each eligible voter to make their voice heard.

With both Democrat and Republican sponsors of Senate Bill 1933, there should be no question about this commonsense legislation. It’s time for Illinois become a national leader in civic engagement and pass AVR.

Ryan Cortazar, Edgewater

Expand Route 53

Few issues unite taxpayers as consistently as investing in our transportation infrastructure. While we write as members of different political parties, we are first and foremost representatives the citizens of Lake and McHenry counties and champions of our communities’ prosperity.

The expansion of Illinois Route 53 would do as much to grow the northwest suburbs’ economy as any other current proposal. The reasons are simple: in emergencies, ambulances and fire trucks will have clearer paths to their destinations; motorists will spend more time with their families and less time stuck in traffic; and goods and services will move from destination to destination faster, driving job creation, economic growth and demand for real estate.

This is why the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning views expanding Route 53 as critical to our region’s economic future. It is also why voters have resoundingly supported expanding Route 53 in a recent advisory referendum, and why polling demonstrates that taxpayers from McHenry and Lake Counties, representing every political and demographic group, want this project to move forward.

In 2011, the Illinois Tollway put together a Blue Ribbon Advisory Council, which green-lighted the expansion, with major environmental protections for the project area specifically established. Before the project can begin, however, an environmental impact study must be conducted. This in-depth analysis of the project will provide empirical data in a transparent fashion. The Tollway has the funding to conduct the study, so it should begin without further delay.

Advocates and the public remain steadfast in their support of the expansion of Route 53 because a viable solution to the transportation bottleneck in Lake and McHenry Counties is desperately needed.

Expanding Illinois Route 53 will help meet that need and make our communities better places to raise families, start businesses and pursue the American Dream.

Jack D. Franks, chairman,
McHenry County Board of Directors

Sidney Mathias, member,
Lake County Board of Directors

Trump says ‘Let them eat cake’

Great column by Robert Reich on Monday. Anyone who believes that billionaire Trump is the answer to their own financial woes is living in a cave. Trump will always take care of the wealthy because in protecting their interests he protects his own.

Praise the wealthy!

Why do you think he’s surrounded himself with millionaires?

Bow down to them!

Tax breaks for the rich mean less money to run our already underfunded government.

Let them eat cake!

We’re heading for dire straits, and if Trump and his boys have their way, we’ll all wallow in Third World muck.

How dare you complain, peasant!

But maybe that’s the point: The gods are on Olympus, and the rest of us are dwelling in caves.

Tony Galati, Lemont