A federal judge has ordered the Illinois State Board of Elections to block implementation of Illinois’ Election Day voter registration at precinct polling places in the November 2016 election. The Liberty Justice Center challenged Illinois law establishing Election Day registration because it guaranteed the right to register and vote at any polling place to residents in some counties but not others.
The state law in question required counties with populations of 100,000 or more to offer Election Day voter registration at all precinct polling places. However, the law did not require counties with lower populations to offer Election Day voter registration at all polling places – making it more difficult for people to register to vote in some areas of the state than others. In August, the nonpartisan Liberty Justice Center asked the U.S. district court to strike down this law for violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
“Today the court recognized the unfairness of guaranteeing a voting right to some voters but not others. The court ruled that if Illinois is going to have Election Day voter registration at polling places, it should be available statewide – and it should be fair. The government shouldn’t make it harder for people in some parts of the state to register and vote,” said Jacob Huebert, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “If Illinois wants to provide Election Day voter registration at the polls, it can do so in a way that’s fair and equal. Six other states, including Illinois’ neighbors Wisconsin and Iowa, give all of their citizens the right to register and vote at their local polling places; they don’t favor voters in some counties over voters in other counties. We’re pleased the court affirmed that everyone has right to the same opportunity to vote.”
The court ruled that the plaintiffs in the case were likely to ultimately prevail on their constitutional claim and that allowing the current scheme to remain in place for the November election would cause irreparable harm to voters in low-population Illinois counties. The court stated that the law improperly “favors the urban citizens and dilutes the vote of the rural citizen.” The court wrote that the “de facto effect” of Illinois’ Election Day registration law “is to ensure that persons in certain larger and wealthier counties are provided with EDR options that those in less affluent counties do not have.” The court noted that “[w]hile it is a desirable goal to make the voting process more readily available to United States citizens in Illinois and encourage them to vote, that goal must apply equally to all United States citizens in Illinois.”
The plaintiffs in the case were Patrick Harlan, a candidate for Congress, and the Crawford County Republican Central Committee.