Monday, October 27, 2008

20,462 people would have been excluded without grace period registration

The deadline to register to vote in Illinois is 28 days before the election. After that, the state extends a grace period of an extra 14 days where citizens can register to vote, but they have to do so in the office of the election administrator (no drivers license facilities or street-corner registrations from outside organizations are permitted after the regular deadline). And to make it easier on the election administators, grace period registrants must vote when they register, so the administators need not get their information, including a digital signature, to the polling place in that 14 day window.

This year, 20,462 Illinois citizens were not excluded from voting by the regular deadline to register, according to the State Journal-Register, as those 20,462 citizens registered and voted during the grace period.

Senator James Meeks (D-Chicago) and then-Representative Robin Kelly (now Chief of Staff to Treasurer Alexi Gionnoulias) sponsored the bill to implement grace period registration in their respective chambers. The bill, SB 2133, passed on essentially a party-line vote (with the exception of then-Republican Paul Froehlich who voted for it -- an early sign of his admirable independence and consistent work to improve democracy and government for all citizens). 

I was the advocate and lobbyist for the grace period registration bill and I hope that in 2009 the General Assembly will extend registration opportunities to more citizens who wish to vote but find out they can not because of a government deadline to provide the government with their residence information. Today, thousands of citizens (particularly the young and the mobile) are learning to their dismay that they are not registered at their current address or at all and are thus unable to vote. We should implement same-day voter registration, if not at the polling place as Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire, aine and a few other states use, then at least at the office of the election authority where same-day registrants can show up, show ID, register and vote. This is how Montana offers same-day registration (essentially an extension through election-day of Illinois' grace period registration Montana calls "late registration" -- doesn't "grace period" sound more inclusive than "late registration"?). 

Let's extend our grace period through election day in 2010 and stop excluding citizens from voting.

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