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Citizens Denied the Vote: Expand Registration Grace Period To Election Day

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The deadline to register to vote in Illinois is 28 days before the election. After that day (Oct. 7) the state extends a grace period of an extra 14 days where citizens can register to vote, but they have to do so in the office of the election administrator (no driver's license facilities or street-corner registrations from outside organizations are permitted after the regular deadline). And to make it easier on the election administrators, grace period registrants must vote when they register, so the administrators need not get their information, including a digital signature, to the polling place in that 14 day window.

This year, 20,462 Illinois citizens were not excluded from voting by the regular deadline to register, according to the State Journal-Register, as those 20,462 citizens registered and voted during the grace period. That's a success for democracy as without the grace period, those 20,000 citizens would be excluded from their election.

State Senator James Meeks (D-Chicago) and then-Representative Robin Kelly (now Chief of Staff to Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias) sponsored the bill to implement grace period registration in their respective chambers. The bill, SB 2133, passed on essentially a party-line vote (with the exception of then-Republican Representative Paul Froehlich (Schaumburg) who voted for it -- an early sign of his admirable independence and consistent work to improve democracy and government for all citizens).

I was the advocate and lobbyist for the grace period registration bill and I hope that in 2009 the General Assembly will extend registration opportunities to more citizens who wish to vote but find out they can't because of a government deadline to provide their residence information.

Today, thousands of citizens (particularly the young and the mobile) are learning to their dismay that they are not registered at their current address or at all and are thus unable to vote. We should implement same-day voter registration, if not at the polling place as in Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Maine and a few other states, then at least at the office of the election authority where same-day registrants can show up, show ID, register and vote. This is how Montana offers same-day registration (essentially an extension through election-day of Illinois' grace period registration that Montana calls "late registration" -- doesn't "grace period" sound more inclusive than "late registration"?).

Let's extend our grace period through election day in 2010 and stop excluding citizens from voting.