The bill is HB 267 (now Public Act 96-0441), sponsored by Representative Will Davis and Senator James Meeks. Our government still puts the burden on citizens to register to vote (instead of taking the view that the least that government employees can do is to prepare the list of citizens eligible to vote ahead of time so citizens can vote on election day without a trip to some local government office ahead of time). The regular deadline to register to vote at one's current address is 29 days before the election. Illinois has a grace period (thanks to Treasurer Candidate Robin Kelly's efforts to pass this bill in 2004 with me) where citizens can register to vote or update their address for an additional two weeks after the regular deadline. The only catch is they must do so downtown at the office of the election authority (usually the county clerk). Registering in person at their offices during the grace period (instead of at drivers license facilities or post offices or on the street) minimizes any chance of fraud and gives the election workers more control over the paperwork.
This year, I helped Will Davis with his effort to extend the grace period all the way to election day. Some of the election administrators thought that would have been too much, so Representative Davis compromised with them on a bill to extend the grace period another week up until 7 days before the election, but not all the way to election day. Essentially, they split the difference. With an agreement with the election administators not to oppose the bill (since they decided they were able to process the new registrations and address updates with 7 days to spare), I thought this might become a bill that passed unanimously. After all, the people who run elections had no objection. Who could oppose ending the practice of stopping citizens from voting just on principle?
Apparently, most Republican legislators. I wrote about the bill when the Senate passed this on a party-line vote out of the Elections Committee (and the Republicans opposed the concept of more people vote on principle!) back in April.
Fortunately, the Democrats are running things, and with Democratic Governor Pat Quinn on the 16th floor of the Thompson Center, he signed the bill into law on Friday. Starting in the February 2010 primary, all Illinois citizens will have more of an opportunity to vote in elections because the grace period will be extended until 7 days before the election.
If a Republican were the Governor, this bill would have not have been signed into law this week, and thus there would be thousands of Illinois citizens would not be able to vote in 2010.
Thanks to the Democratic General Assembly (especially Will Davis and James Meeks) and Governor Pat Quinn for making our government more responsive to voters. And, ultimately, thanks to Illinois voters for deciding they would like their government run by people who value democracy more by voting for Democrats. We're making progress.