CHICAGO – Election Day voter registration this November has been blocked in Illinois by a federal judge.
Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois made the order to the Illinois State Board of Elections after the Liberty Justice Center challenged the Election Day voter registration law, claiming the process limits who has access to voter registration on Election Day.
Under the law, only precincts that have a population of 100,000 or more are required to allow voter registration the day of the election. This puts districts with low populations at a disadvantage and makes it harder for residents to register to vote, which could allegedly impact election results, the Liberty Justice Center argued.
The group claimed that the Election Day voter registration law violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment and filed a challenge to the law in August on behalf of Patrick Harlan, a candidate for Congress, and the Crawford County Republican Central Committee.
“The equal protection clause basically means all people are treated the same,” David Yepsen, director at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, told the Record. “If you have Election Day registration as some polling places and not at others, the argument was that you are treating those people differently than people at other polling places. If you do it in heavily Democratic precincts and not in Republican ones, you could add more Democratic voters to the electorate and influence the outcome of the election.”
A court ruled that the Liberty Justice Center and its plaintiffs would likely be able to show merit as to their constitutional claim, and leaving the regulation in place for the November election would cause harm to voters in low-population areas of Illinois. This would create what the court said was a “de facto” effect of the Election Day registration law that would, if kept in place, favor urban Illinois residents over rural Illinois residents.
In addition to giving more access to some counties over others, some claim the Election Day voter registration law opens voter registration up to fraud, as it can be hard to verify a person’s identity during Election Day.
“Some officials argue same-day registration opens the election up to fraud,” said Yepsen. “They feel there's not a safe way to check they are who they are and that they live where they say they do. They also fear the added hassle at the polling places. Supporters say it makes it easier for voters in this highly mobile society and that there's no pattern of fraud in states that do same-day registration. The opponents say this is Illinois, a state with a storied history of Election Day shenanigans, problems or downright fraud.”
While the Liberty Justice Center asked the federal court to ban the law at all polling places in the November election, it suggested that the General Assembly needs to fix the legislation to make it fair for all precincts.