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GOP leader sides with speaker on voting-rights amendment

SPRINGFIELD —A top Republican legislator added his name Friday to a Democratic push to guarantee voting rights for minorities, women and gays and lesbians in the Illinois Constitution, but it wasn’t clear whether his Senate counterpart is fully on board with the plan.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, backed House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, in his effort to expand voter protection for Illinois citizens.

HJRCA52, the proposed amendment sponsored by Madigan that advanced out of a House committee earlier this week, says that no person can be denied the right to register to vote or cast a ballot based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, income or status as a member of a language minority.

“I hope this constitutional amendment will eliminate any fear of discrimination potential eligible voters may have, and as a result will encourage more Illinoisans to exercise their right to vote,” Durkin said in a prepared statement.

Madigan’s legislation came after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to throw out a key piece of the 1965 Voting Rights Act allowed states to set their own registration and voting laws.

Madigan cited examples in GOP-led states like North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas where analysts said new voting standards put into place by Republican governors and legislatures could suppress Democratic turnout in those states.

But Durkin said expanding voter protections and increased voter participation would only help out Republicans in Illinois, a predominantly blue state.

He said voter turnout was “woefully low” in the March primary elections and hopes that “an engaged electorate will foster change.”

A Madigan aide praised the House Republican leader’s endorsement.

“The speaker welcomes Durkin’s support,” Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

In order to change the constitution, HJRCA52 must pass with 36 votes in the Senate and 71 votes in the House before the question will go to voters on the November ballot.

If Madigan gets his plan out of the House, it’s not clear whether Senate Republicans will be as supportive as Durkin after the head of the Senate’s 19-member GOP caucus voiced skepticism about the speaker’s real aim.

“We will certainly give it a thorough review upon passage by the House,” Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said in a prepared statement. “The bottom line is: I certainly do not support voter discrimination. no one does, and it has not been a problem in Illinois.

“So, it appears there may be another agenda,” she said.