County clerks across Illinois begrudgingly accept that Illinois may soon have automatic voter registration.
“It's a good thought,” McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said. “But I don't think that anybody considers the cost. Now some people will say, ‘We shouldn't consider costs when we're talking about democracy and giving the people the chance to vote,' and I say, yes, we should – when we don't have any money.”
The clerks, who are tasked with running Illinois’ elections, worry most about cost. Marion County Clerk Steve Fox said he pleaded with lawmakers to consider local budgets and local taxpayers.
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“We said, 'Guys, you've passed over a hundred-some election [laws] in the last couple of years that cost us all money,’” Fox said. “You need to fund it.”
Illinois lawmakers approved the plan, which would update voter information anytime someone goes to the secretary of state's office for a driver’s license, ID card or new license plate.
Knox County Clerk Scott Erickson said adding thousands of new voters in each county is a double punch to the gut. First, Erickson said costs would skyrocket because counties must print more ballots than there are registered voters.
And second, Erickson said counties are going to look bad.
“Your voter turnouts, instead of being increased, are actually going to decrease,” Erickson said. “Now you've got more voters on the rolls. And those voters aren't going to be actively participating. So your actual participation and turnout rate is going to go down.”
Fox said he only expects a few thousand more voters in Marion County if Gov. Bruce Rauner signs the automatic voter registration plan.
Michael said the change could mean several thousand new voters each year in McLean County and other university counties.
“It is a lot more paperwork for those of us with college students,” Michael said, adding that Illinois State University alone has 20,000 students.
Rauner said he's open to making it easier to register to vote, but he hasn't said whether he'll sign the automatic voter registration proposal now headed to his desk.