OAK PARK – County clerks across Illinois began preparing to offer Election Day voter registration after Gov. Pat Quinn signed a measure Tuesday that'll also give voters more time to cast early ballots and remove a photo identification requirement to vote early.
Supporters wanted a trial run with the new rules, so the law only applies to the November election, with the goal of expanding it later. Still, clerks said voter registration sites on Nov. 4 would be limited.
Several county officials said they worried about additional costs, but they were still working out details. Cook County Clerk David Orr estimated that implementing the law would cost about $50,000 with voters being allowed to vote until the Sunday before the election and for longer evening hours. He said it wasn't much considering his office covers Cook County except Chicago.
"It's nice to be in a state that is expanding voting rights rather than shrinking them," Orr said.
Ten other states and Washington D.C., allow same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several other Democratic-led states have approved plans expanding same-day registration or early voting, while GOP-controlled state legislatures, including Wisconsin, have taken recent steps to limit early voting.
The Illinois law would remove the photo identification requirement for in-person early voting and let Illinois' public universities set up a campus location for in-person absentee voting on Election Day. Backers said the new law will improve access for voters, help boost turnout and modernize election law.
But opponents said making it easier to vote doesn't guarantee informed voters, and they questioned the motives of those supporting the law. Republicans said the measure – which was fast-tracked through the Legislature on the second-to-last-day of the spring session – was part of an effort to draw votes for Democrats. Quinn and other Democrats have dismissed the claim.
Quinn said the plan would make voting "as easy as possible."
"It's very, very important that we uphold those fundamental opportunities for people to participate in our democracy," he said at the bill signing.
The November election features one of the most competitive gubernatorial races nationwide. Quinn, who is seeking a second full term, is being challenged by Republican businessman Bruce Rauner. Democrats and Republicans have pushed voter initiatives hoping to improve turnout.
Still most Illinois counties were expected to offer limited sites for Election Day registration. For instance, Pike County has one early voting site at the county building in Pittsfield. That could potentially be the county's only Election Day registration site, but county officials had yet to meet on the issue, said Pike County Clerk Donnie Apps.
In central Illinois, McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said because of cost concerns, her office would likely offer one Election Day registration site. Coles County Clerk Sue Rennels said one location for the eastern Illinois county would be likely also, considering the extra help and equipment needed.
The new law follows other recent efforts aimed at improving turnout. This year, 17-year-olds were allowed to vote in the March primary election if they turned 18 by the general election. Another new law allows online voter registration.