New State Voting Laws Require Local Changes

voteA change in operations may be coming to the election offices in Knox County after new legislation was signed by Governor Pat Quinn, Tuesday.

Part of the omnibus legislation allows for same-day voter registration; meaning, those interested in casting a ballot could do so on election day. Governor Quinn took the opportunity yesterday to comment on the legislation during the signing ceremony in Oak Park.

Election officials in Knox County and Galesburg, however, say that changes in the state’s voting laws have become an annual occurrence, and this year’s changes were largely anticipated. Several years ago, the state of Illinois had a voter registration window. Since then, a registration grace period was implemented for what lawmakers have said is a way to gain greater electoral participation.

The new law will extend that grace period through the poll closing at 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. Previously, registration ended a few days prior to Election Day, even with the grace period. That move will require a few operational changes, locally.

Knox County Clerk Scott Erickson tells WGIL that by changing the grace period option, it adds a new component.

“Now the election judges are going to have to be able to work, and deal with, an actual voter registration issue where we’ve got a voter coming to the polls wanting to register that day, instead of them coming to us and working on that registration with that grace voting,” says Erickson.

The law signed Tuesday only allows for same-day registration for the 2014 election. While still speculative, Erickson says it’s likely same-day registration will be extended into future election years.

Additional costs could be incurred by Knox County as well as the Galesburg Election Offices under the law. According to the Associated Press, Cook County Clerk David Orr projected an additional $50,000 in expenses to handle the changes, but said the costs weren’t much. HB105, the official name of the bill, may not adversely affect areas with a population of 100,000 or less.

Nonetheless, additional personnel will be required to handle any unexpected influx of voters in November. Electronic polling is slowly becoming the norm, but current estimates for the purchase of paper ballots may also need to be altered.

“By having a same-day voter registration, or same-day grace voting option on election day, it kind of throws that matrix into chaos,” says Erickson. “Because we don’t know exactly what numbers we should be looking for, for ordering ballots.”

While smoothing the logistics of same-day voter registration is a concern for the local election offices, issues could also be raised concerning the law’s verbiage. Galesburg Election Commission Executive Director Lisa Watson tells WGIL she was already part of a meeting with the state Board of Election’s legislation director in Bloomington.

“It’s a change, we’re going to comply with that, we’re just going to wait until we get the legal interpretation from the state Board of Elections so that we can implement it completely and make sure that everyone’s rights are fully available to them,” says Watson.

Same-day voter registration is already allowed in a number of other states in the country.

An extension of hours at the Election Commission office at Galesburg City Hall could be provided using the help of election judges. That decision would still need to be made by the Board of Election Commissioners.

Time is available to make changes locally as ballots for November’s election will not be certified until the end of August.

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