New Election Changes Meant to Boost Democratic Turnout

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By Fanna Haile-Selassie
By Jared Roberts

JACKSON CO. -- In their final flurry of legislation Friday, Illinois lawmakers approved some changes for this year's election. Some believe those changes are designed to help boost turnout of Democrats.

Some of the biggest include same-day voter registration and extending the grace period for registration and early voting. Not only are lawmakers making it easier to vote, they're also luring people to the polls by adding big referenda items to the ballot.
 
"In a presidential year, you have a pretty good turnout. In a non-presidential year or a midterm election like this, the turnout drops," says David Yepsen with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. "It really drops among younger voters and minority voters. And that's what Democrats are concerned about. If they don't get those groups turned out, they lose."
 
Yepsen says that fear is evident by the sheer number of referendum questions placed on the November ballot, asking voters whether they'd like to see things like increased minimum wage or a tax on millionaires.
 
"These non-binding referenda, they don't have any meaning at all. But they are designed to be an organizing tool that democrats can go out into the field and get people to turn out," Yepsen explains.
 
Another effort to boost turnout are new election changes lawmakers passed on Friday, making it much easier for people to vote just for this November election.
 
"We'll be prepared for it without any problems. We'll just have to see how it works out," says Jackson County Clerk Larry Reinhardt.
 
He says early voters will no longer have to show ID; they'll just give their signature. Additional polling centers will also go up at universities, including one at SIU's Student Center to cover 13 precincts. In addition, citizens will now be able to register and vote at the same time on election day, raising the question of how the county will prevent election fraud.
 
Reinhardt says, "The grace period process is verified with time. It doesn't really matter whether we stop Saturday before, the Monday before election day, we will verify address and ID before we count those ballots."
 
Both Yepsen and Reinhardt believe if these new changes work in the Democrats' favor, it's likely they could become permanent.
 
There will also be a few statewide ballot questions that could drive both parties to the polls this year. Illinois election officials say the group pushing for term limits on legislators now appears to have enough signatures to get on the November ballot. But it is still facing a legal challenge. A final decision will come June 17th.

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