President Obama endorses automatic voter registration in Illinois

Speaking to the Illinois General Assembly yesterday, President Obama came down hard in favor of a bill the state’s legislature is considering that would automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they interact with the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies:

Obama endorsed the legislation as part of a broader call for electoral reform, including changes to our campaign finance system and the implementation of non-partisan redistricting. However, while reducing the influence of money in politics, making elections more competitive and making it easier to vote all seem like relatively straightforward, non-controversial ideas, Illinois Republicans aren’t sold on all of them. From Ari Berman at the Nation:

President Obama speaking to the Illinois General Assembly, screenshot via YouTube

President Obama speaking to the Illinois General Assembly, screenshot via YouTube

These ideas sound like common sense, but have become surprisingly contentious. Obama noted that Republicans in the Democratic-controlled Illinois legislature applauded his remarks on gerrymandering but not on voting rights. “Now, this shouldn’t be controversial, guys,” Obama said. “You liked the redistricting thing, but not letting people vote. I should get some applause on that, too.”

Damn right he should. There is no good reason for states not to switch from opt-in to automatic/opt-out voter registration. In Illnois alone, the law would add between 300,000 and 1.1 million people to the state’s voter rolls (Dick Durbin won his election to the Senate in 2014 by just under 400,000 votes). The fact that most of these new registrants would happen to be Democrats explains Republicans’ refusal to applaud, but that only underscores the point that opposition to automatic voter registration is strictly partisan. No one can come up with a good argument against it that doesn’t boil down to “I don’t want Democrats to win.”

Which means that the rules of the game have become a partisan issue when they really shouldn’t be.

In any case, the fact that automatic voter registration now has the official approval of both the current president and both Democratic presidential candidates is a testament to the growing momentum to pass it in states around the country. Earlier this week, Connecticut became the 15th state to introduce automatic voter registration this year — in addition to Oregon and California where it has already passed. As the general election approaches, expect continued momentum on this front in the months to come.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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5 Responses to “President Obama endorses automatic voter registration in Illinois”

  1. UncleBucky says:

    GOTV. We win. Voter suppression. GOP wins. Not good.

  2. Jon Green says:

    ah good catch. will fix

  3. BeccaM says:

    non-partisan gerrymandering

    I think you meant ‘non-partisan redistricting.’ Gerrymandering as a term originated in 1812 with Governor Gerry of Massachusetts who drew a district which many likened to a salamander, the purpose of which, of course, is to benefit one party over another. (The wings, claws and maw were added later in a political cartoon.)

  4. Bill_Perdue says:

    It’s not a real question. It might be if this were a democracy, but it’s not.

    “A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

    Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often. It’s beyond alarming.

    As Gilens and Page write, ‘the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.”

  5. FLL says:

    Automatic voter registration is a logical extension of genuine democracy. Only Republican shills and sneaky hypocrites would have bad things to say about this proposal. Ahem.

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