Agreement between activist groups, secretary of state resolves lawsuit
By SARAH MANSUR
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Illinois voting rights groups have reached a settlement agreement with Secretary of State Jesse White over alleged violations of the federal Voting Rights Act and Illinois’ recently passed automatic voter registration law.
The agreement, approved in federal court on Tuesday, resolves the lawsuit brought last February by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago, CHANGE Illinois, Chicago Votes Education Fund, Common Cause Illinois, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and Illinois Public Interest Research Group Education Fund.
The lawsuit argued that the secretary of state’s office, which offers voter registration services, violates state and federal law and “frustrates Illinois citizens’ ability to register to vote.”
Illinois’ automatic voter registration law was passed in 2017, and it requires that the secretary of state’s office automatically register eligible voters who are applying for, renewing or updating a REAL ID driver’s license, unless they opt out.
There is a slightly different procedure for registering voters who are applying for, renewing or updating a non-REAL ID driver’s license.
“While (automatic voter registration) was intended to expand Illinois’ voting rolls in a fair, accurate, and secure way, the law’s implementation fell short of that,” said senior counsel Ami Gandhi of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which is representing the advocacy groups, in a news release.
The secretary of state’s office allegedly failed to provide applicants with required information about voter eligibility, ask applicants about their voter registrations status, and offer information in other languages, as required by state and federal law.
According to the settlement, the secretary of state does not admit to any of the allegations in the lawsuit.
“We are pleased that the litigation has been completed and we will continue to aggressively help people in the voter registration process. We have registered more than one million citizens through Automatic Voter Registration in making the system thorough and easy to understand,” a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office said in a statement.
The agreement requires the secretary of state to provide language assistance in areas with high numbers of non-English speakers, such as Cook County, where Drivers Services Facilities must display instructions for registering to vote in Spanish, Chinese, Hindi and Urdu.
It also requires the secretary of state’s office to inform individuals of their registration status at the start of certain transactions, and to provide individuals with federally mandated disclosures, which include information about voter eligibility requirements.
The settlement agreement also requires the secretary of state’s office to screen out any individuals who are non-citizens or under age 18 before their information is sent to the Illinois State Board of Elections, among other provisions of the settlement.
Jay Young, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, said this agreement strengthens democracy at a time when many states are attempting to weaken it.
“This agreement means that a lot of voters across Illinois who’ve been left out of the process will be able to access the ballot,” Young said in a news release.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.
PHOTO: Secretary of State Jesse White is pictured at the Illinois State Fair in 2019. (Capitol News Illinois file photo)