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How to clean up Illinois voter rolls and expand democracy

(Tanya Moutzalias/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

Illinois has a chance to clean up voting lists, make elections run more smoothly, help eligible citizens vote and save money.

Here’s our vote: Do so without delay.

Advances in technology have made it possible for Illinois to adopt automatic voter registration, which means when citizens move to a new address they automatically are re-registered as soon as they interact with a government agency by, say, updating their driver’s licenses.

Right now, people hardly ever remember to cancel their old voter registrations when they move. The result? Stampedes right before elections as people rush to register at their new addresses. Confusion on Election Day when forgetful people with outdated registration show up to vote. County officials spending endless hours weeding out from voting rolls the names of people who have moved away.

And the confusion nurtures a perception, though in reality baseless, of fraud.

Putting an end to that wasted time will save money in the long run and improve confidence in the integrity of elections.

In the March 2016 primary, 75 percent of the people in Cook County who had to update their registrations on Election Day already had an ID with their new address. With automatic voter registration, their registrations already would have been updated seamlessly.

The Legislature passed an automatic voter registration bill in 2016 with strong bipartisan support, but Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it. At the time, critics said Rauner used his veto pen to discourage turnout among poor and middle-class people when he runs for re-election 2018.

EDITORIAL

The bills now in the Senate and House have been tweaked to address Rauner’s objections. For example, people will be able to opt out of the process immediately instead of waiting for a mailed notification, something Rauner had asked for.

About two million people move within Illinois each year. Right now, the number of people who choose to update their voter registration at the same time as their driver’s licenses ranges from about a third in off years to about 40 percent in an election year. Oregon, which has an automatic voter registration system similar to the one proposed for Illinois, gets about 75 percent of people to update their registrations.

In the Senate bill introduced by Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, people would have their voter registrations automatically updated when they interact with five agencies: the Secretary of State, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the Department of Employment Security and the Department on Aging. The implementation date would be July 1, 2018.

The House bill, introduced by state Rep. Mike Fortner, (R-West Chicago), would involve only the Secretary of State and does not set an implementation date.

Those are differences that can be resolved. The important thing is to enhance democracy in this digital age by improving accuracy and making it easier to vote.