Lawmakers debate automatic voter registration at DMV - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Lawmakers debate automatic voter registration at DMV

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WSIL -- Illinois senators are considering a bill that would automatically register people to vote when they apply for and update a drivers license or state ID.

"Our democracy works best when everybody participates," said Abe Scarr, executive director of the Illinois Public Research Interest Group.

More than a dozen states are considering a similar proposal.

Supporters claim it helps election officials update voter address information. However there are still several details state leaders need to work out, such as how people would opt out should they refuse automatic renewal at the DMV.

"We get a big package every couple weeks from the DMV," said Williamson County Clerk Amanda Barnes, as she looked over piles of registration cards used to keep accurate information on local voters.

"People move. They are so mobile now. They are moving constantly, so it's hard to keep up with all of the address changes," Barnes said.

This new proposal has the potential to lessen her work load and that of other county clerks, as well as save taxpayers money.

When people go to the DMV to apply for or update their drivers license, lawmakers want to use that information to automatically update voter registration. Right now, the process is completely separate. 

Those sponsoring the bill call it progressive and the way of the future.

"Removing barriers to registration that I think we have come to accept as the norm," said Sen. Andy Manar, (D) Decatur. Manar is a cosponsor of the proposed legislation.

Supporters say the law could save hundreds of thousands of dollars through reduced paper use and employee costs, as well as bring more voters to the polls. 

"Automatic voter registration greatly expands access to the franchise and will add many eligible voters to the rolls which will make it more likely that they'll vote," Scarr said.

But some point out this proposal could result in accidentally registering non-citizens, who could then face deportation. Experts familiar with the policy say getting it started is tricky.

"There are transition costs. There are barriers to implementation, logistical and systemic. There's a certain level of upfront monetary cost," said Sam Munger, director of outreach and partnerships for the State Innovation Exchange, a Wisconsin-based program.

Studies show in some states that's totaled about $200,000. Supporters argue it will pay off.

"It would be more efficient which would save taxpayers a significant amount of money over time," Munger said.

So far, only Illinois democrats have supported the bill. If it is eventually implemented, some lawmakers hope to expand automatic registration to other state agencies as well.

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