Lawsuit alleges law unfairly aids same-day voting in heavily Democratic counties
A court challenge to a 2-year-old voter registration law is not an attempt to suppress Democratic turnout, the president of a conservative Illinois think tank said during a recent interview after such accusations were made.
"Those making those accusations have their own agenda," Liberty Justice Center President Pat Hughes said during a recent interview on Chicago's Morning Answer with Amy Jacobson and Dan Proft.
"What they're really saying when they're saying we're driving down votes and that we don't want voters to come out is that they want to make sure that their voters come out, the Democrats, and that the rest of the people can't vote," Hughes said. "So if they really cared about voters coming out to vote, they'd have done same-day voter registration at every polling place throughout the state, not just in counties with Democratic votes."
Proft is a founder of the Liberty Justice Center, which he describes as a free market-oriented, public-interest law firm.
Liberty Justice Center is one of the plaintiffs in a suit filed this month in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois against the Illinois State Board of Elections that challenges the state's Election Day voter registration law. Another plaintiff in the case is the Republican candidate for Illinois’ 17th Congressional District, Patrick Harlan of Galesburg, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Rep. Cheri Bustos of East Moline.
The other plaintiff in the case is the Crawford County Republican Central Committee.
The named defendants are the eight members of the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Hughes spotlighted for the radio hosts the 2014 state law that allows for voter registration on Election Day. The state's previous system of same-day voter registration was known as grace-period registration, which allowed unregistered voters to vote after a deadline of up to three days before the election. Those registrations occurred at the county clerk’s office or another specifically designated site, not at polling places. The law was enacted early the following year after it was passed by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly and signed by then-outgoing Democrat Gov. Pat Quinn.
"I think it was the last bill that Quinn signed," Hughes said during the radio interview. "It was passed on party line, strictly party line vote. Ostensibly, what it does is it allows in the top 20 most populous counties same-day registration voting in every polling place. But if you're in the other 82 counties in the state that are less than 100,000 [residents], you have to go to the centralized location."
The difficulty lies in the Democrat-Republican distribution in the 20 counties with the largest populations, where 62 percent are Democrats, while the populations in the other counties are little more than half Republican, Hughes said.
"So what the General Assembly did was do this scheme so that they could drive their vote out on Election Day," Hughes said. "You cannot treat voters differently on a statewide basis under the U.S. Constitution; it's a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. So the Liberty Justice Center is challenging on that basis."
The law violates the Equal Protection Clause by excluding from the counties with populations of less than 100,000 residents, counties that happen to have a slight Republican majority, Hughes said.
"I'm surprised they didn't do the one thing that would have really made it beneficial for them, which was just make it same-day registration and voting in every polling place just in Cook County," Hughes said. "And I think they would do that if they thought they could get away with this. This, at least, is under the guise of 100,000 or more population, so they can pack those 20 counties together and make it look less brazen. But it's absolutely brazen, it's clearly their intent. But if they could have their druthers, then they just would have done it in Cook County."
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