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Thursday, October 6, 2016

Illinois Election Day Voter Registration Battle Continues

On September 27, 2016, a federal district court judge issued a ruling in Harlan, et al. v. Scholz, et al., blocking counties from implementing election day registration. Just this week (October 4, 2016), an appellate court issued a "stay" of that ruling, pending further proceedings. 

SB 172, signed into law by then-Governor Quinn, provided that certain Illinois counties (i.e., counties with a population of 100,000 or more and counties with electronic polling books) must provide voters with the option of registering to vote at any polling place on election day. Counties with a population of less than 100,000 that do not have electronic polling books were exempt from the new mandate.  Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to challenge the law and alleged that their interests were to “protect the rights of United States citizens in the low-population counties without electronic polling books to ensure that they have the same opportunity to vote as voters in high-population counties.”  Plaintiffs asked the court to block implementation of the election day registration.  

The federal district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, holding that they satisfied the requirements for a preliminary injunction against implementation of the law.  The court found irreparable harm to the voters if, among other things, their right to vote and register to vote in smaller counties was not the same as those with higher populations and electronic polling books.  The court also accepted plaintiffs’ argument that the availability of polling place registration would increase voter turn-out in high-population counties as compared to the counties that were not covered under the law.  The court rejected the defendants’ argument that geographical classifications are necessary for the implementation of the election day registration system.  When balancing the harms to the parties, the court found that plaintiffs would be harmed by the unfair advantage given to more populous counties over less populous ones. 

Since the district court's ruling was issued, the Illinois Attorney General filed an appeal, and the appellate court stayed the district court’s ruling, meaning that at least for now, election day registration is not blocked, pending further proceedings. We will update this blog as the same-day registration battles rages on.  

Post Authored by Tiffany Nelson-Jaworski, Ancel Glink


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