On July 6, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law SB 3722 (passed with exclusively Democratic votes) that contains two innovative and exciting provisions that will lead to more citizens voting this November.
The first extends the period of time when citizens can register to vote and update their address until the Saturday before the election. This Illinois-specific program is called the grace period for voter registration and runs from the regular registration deadline of 28 days before the election all the way (now) until the Saturday before the election. The deadline had been a week before the election before the new law. Grace period registrants must show up in person at the office of the election administrator (or any office they designate); on-the-street registrations or post office or motor vehicle offices all end at the regular deadline 28 days before the election.
The grace period was implemented in 2005 for the first time (then-Governor Blagojevich's press release is here and my blog posts on the topic are here) with a 14 day window, extended in 2010 into a 21 day window (here is Governor Quinn's press release) and a few days ago, into a 25 day window.
At least 20,000 people have been able to vote because of the grace period in the 2010 election. I suspect more than 25,000 will be able to vote -- who otherwise would have been turned away from their ballots because of government-imposed administrative deadlines -- in November of 2012.
The second provision of the new law requires election authorities to offer early voting on the college campuses of the major public universities in the state. This requirement will ensure that college students (who often don't have a car) won't have to make their way to the obscure office of the county clerk off-campus in order to cast an early ballot, but instead will be able to go to a high-traffic area and cast their ballot during the few weeks before the election when early voting is offered.
Congratulations to Senator Michael Frerichs for pushing the campus early vote bill in its original version two years ago and Representative Deb Mell for filing the original grace period extension bill this year.
This is a model for other states that actually want more people to vote (in clear contrast to mostly-Republican states that are increasing the barriers between citizens and their ballots in a War on Voting).
Or put another way, Illinois Democrats Attack Back in the War on Voting!