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Quinn signs bill allowing online voter registration in Illinois

ElectionsIllinois GovernorDavid Orr Executive BranchDan DuffyInterior Policy

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed a measure into law Saturday that will make Illinois the 18th state to allow voters to register online.

Supporters say the move could increase turnout at the polls and cut down on paperwork costs, while critics question the security of an online registration system and say there is a potential for fraud in a state where Chicagoans have been known to vote from beyond the grave.

Under the legislation, anyone with a valid driver's license or state identification card can go online to sign up to vote online beginning July 1, 2014. That’s the target date for the State Board of Elections to have the new system up and running.

The measure is backed by Cook County Clerk David Orr, who said the online option will be a "win-win" for voters and election officials that makes it easier to register and reduces processing time and the potential for errors since voters will be in charge of entering their own personal information. Orr also contends there are enough checks and balances to prevent wrongdoing.

In addition to a state-issued ID, those wishing to register online will be required to enter the date the ID was issued as well as the last four digits of their social security number. The information will be cross referenced with existing voter registration databases and one run by the Secretary of State's office that also catalogs the signatures of those who have received state IDs.

A voter's signature must match the one on file in order to cast a ballot. If there's a discrepancy, those who register online may be required to provide additional information before they can vote or they may receive a provisional ballot.

Quinn made online voter registration a priority during his annual State of the State speech in February, saying Illinois needed to adapt to the digital age. The move aims at appealing to younger voters who are more tech savvy and used to doing everything from banking to buying groceries online.

While the number of registered voters is expected to jump because of the ease of signing up online, Orr said only time will tell if it will lead to an actual hike in voter turnout. However, Orr said those who register online in other states have proven more likely to vote than those who register through more traditional routes. That’s because they usually wait until closer to Election Day to sign up, when they are paying more attention to issues and candidates.

Orr said another benefit is cost savings. County clerks will have to hire fewer temporary workers to process applications during peak periods and less paperwork would be generated. Other states have reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings as processing an online registration can cost as low as three cents compared to 83 cents for those who opt for the hard copy route.

The legislation would allow voters to request mail-in ballots online, though county clerks will not be required to offer the service. Orr said he plans to have that system up and running ahead of the March primary election, noting the time saved by requesting a ballot online instead of through the mail could make the difference in whether a vote gets counted.

The changes are a part of a sweeping bill that makes a number of election law changes, including several controversial provisions that drew fierce opposition from Republicans as Democrats pushed the measure through the legislature as spring session ended.

One portion would strip election duties from the Lake County Clerk's office, instead transferring those powers to a five-member board appointed by a judge. Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, contends the move is an attempt by Democrats to exert more control over the elections process in the county. The current clerk, Willard Helander, is a Republican.

"There are some good things in this bill, but I think there are more negatives than positives," Duffy said. "It's typical Chicago politics, coming in and overriding the voice and concerns of the people of Lake County."

Another part of the bill increases the number of signatures a candidate for Chicago alderman would need in order to run, doubling the requirement from 2 percent of the number of votes cast in the most recent election to 4 percent.

David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said that makes it more difficult for challengers to run against incumbents with more resources.

Morrison also raised concerns that lawmakers watered down campaign finance limits put in place following the ouster of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He points to a provision that would eliminate contribution limits for so-called super political action committees if their spending reaches a certain threshold.

Currently, limits on how much individuals and PACs can give are removed for all candidates if a Super PAC spends $250,000 on a statewide race or $100,000 on a lower office. Under the measure Quinn plans to sign, those limits would be lifted if total spending by all super PACs in a race reaches those amounts, Morrison said.

mcgarcia@tribune.com | Twitter: @moniquegarcia

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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