Despite Illinois' history of voting fraud, lawmakers are relaxing registration requirements for poll goers this November.
The legislation would allow election-day registration and require expanded early voting throughout the state, with a special focus on college campuses.
The amendment was attached to a minimum wage ballot referendum bill. Both passed through the general assembly last week.
Along with requiring higher education facilities to conduct early voting drives in "high traffic areas" of campus, the bill also requires colleges and universities to send emails to their students with detailed voter registration process information in general election years. The emails will includes links where students can register online.
State Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, said he favors expansion of the opportunity to vote.
"I always encourage the people in my district to participate in the process," he said. "It's so important. Our turnout statewide needs improvement. Expanding the rules in this way and making it easier to vote will help that happen."
On the idea of it making it easier to commit fraud: "I have not seen any empirical data that suggests expanding registration and access actually increases fraud. I don't buy that argument."
Hans van Spakovsky, manager of election law reform and senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says efforts like this don't generally increase voter turnout, although that is their intended goal. He also said there's a reason one party seems to consistently push these measures when they have the opportunity.
"Loosening voter registration rules is generally an attempt by Democrats to attract demographics of people they think will vote for them. In this case, it's young people and college students. History also shows us that when voter fraud does occur, Democrats are usually the ones to benefit."
Spakovsky has written hundreds of articles and conducted dozens of studies on voter fraud, including a lengthy dissertation on Chicago's voter fraud problems in the governor's race of 1982.
"This is an invitation to fraud," Spakovsky said. "Illinois is already a no-ID state, and it amazes me that with the state's proven history of voting fraud its now going to be even easier to go from polling place to polling place and vote multiple times."
Illinois' history of voter fraud is indeed long and not left wanting for examples. It's estimated that the aforementioned 1982 governor's race saw over 100,000 fraudulent votes – 10 percent of the entire city's vote count - in Chicago alone through multiple voting and box stuffers casting ballots for deceased former residents. The Chicago disaster resulted in one of the Department of Justice's largest voter fraud prosecutions in history.
The 1960 presidential election saw disputed vote counts between Chicago and downstate, and as recently as 2002 several dozen elderly Chicago residents found their requested absentee ballots had already been filled out for them. The latter story resulted in felony convictions of two Cook Country elections officials.
Brian Gladstein, director of programs and strategy at Common Cause Illinois, praised the effort to widen the window for potential voters.
"The cornerstone of our Democracy is to provide the greatest opportunity to vote,” he said. “It creates an environment where more people are civically engaged and care who wins elections."
Gladstein cited low voter turnout in Illinois over the past few election cycles as ample reason to expand the registration process.
"Same-day registration and early voting helps new voters who are just entering the process," Gladstein said. "It also help those voters who don't remember where they are registered or may want to register and vote in a different precinct or county than were they were registered before."
While voting in Illinois doesn't require an ID, registering to vote does. Illinois residents who register on Election Day would be required to provide a driver's license or Social Security number in order to successfully register and then proceed to vote.
On the question of fraud, Gladstein says the solution isn't restricting voter access, but modernizing the system.
"We'd love to see electronic polling booths in every precinct in the state," he said. "Double voting is a challenge, but if all voting was electronic, the database could track who is registered and if they voted already and would prohibit multiple votes from the same registration number."
State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, D- Chicago, sponsored the amendment on the House side.
"This is a way to encourage our young people to vote," Currie said in the executive committee hearing that passed the bill to the House floor. "The more people who engage in democracy, especially beginning at a young age, the healthier our state will be."
Currie said the chances of fraud are miniscule, and while not every case can be avoided, the instances of real fraud are too small to sway any election.