SPRINGFIELD — Illinois could boost voter participation if it begins pre-registering teenagers when they get their first driving permit.
That was just one idea that emerged during an hour-long hearing Tuesday on a plan to make voter registration automatic whenever someone updates or gets a new driver's license.
Automatic registration, already in place in Oregon and California, has the backing of a number of groups and government officials.
"Creating an automatic registration makes voting simpler and knocks down a major barrier that keeps people from voting, “ Delia Ramirez of Common Cause Illinois told a panel of senators discussing the plan.
Noah Praetz, director of elections for Cook County Clerk David Orr, said about one-half of people getting driver's licenses don't register to vote.
He suggested pre-registering 16-year-olds when they first come in the doors for their learning permits so they are already in the system once they turn 18.
State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, is sponsoring the legislation. He said the change would be a significant step forward in ensuring more people head to the polls.
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“The current process creates an unnecessary barrier for citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote, and it’s an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars," Manar said.
The proposal changes current registration laws so whenever someone applies for, updates or renews a driver’s license or state ID he or she will be automatically registered to vote in the local jurisdiction.
Currently there are about 7.5 million registered voters in a state where there are more than 9.9 million potential voters.
"Automatic registration is a cost-saving measure that also increases the state’s ability to monitor against fraud or mistaken registration,” said Kathleen Yang- Clayton of Asian American Advancing Justice.
State Sen. Chris Nybo, R-Elmhurst, said Republicans are concerned about the cost of altering computers to handle the change, as well as the possibility of voter fraud.
But, Nybo said GOP lawmakers were still reviewing the measure.
The legislation is Senate Bill 2134.