Victory for voter access in Illinois as court dismisses Election Day Registration lawsuit

May 22, 2018
For immediate release

Illinois citizens seeking to utilize the State’s Election Day Registration process to vote in the 2018 general election can do so without further interruption from a ideologically-driven group. The victory for access to the ballot comes after a court earlier this month closed Harlan v. Scholtz following an agreed dismissal. The challenge to Illinois’ Election Day Registration (EDR) law was filed just two months before the November 2016 general election by the Illinois Policy Institute’s legal affiliate, creating havoc and uncertainty about whether EDR would be available for that election.

“We are pleased that this attempt at voter disenfranchisement has been sent to the dustbin,” said the ACLU of Illinois’ Director of Communications and Public Policy Edwin C. Yohnka. “Election Day Registration is a critical tool for civic empowerment and access to the vote that benefits voters of every stripe. In these times we must all work to protect rather than abridge access to democracy.”

Ami Gandhi of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights said: “It makes perfect sense to us that this case has been dropped, especially after it failed in its goal to limit voters’ access to the ballot in the 2016 election. We are grateful for this dismissal and eager to turn our attention to other pressing challenges to voting rights in Illinois, such as the implementation of Automatic Voter Registration.”

In August 2016, the Liberty Justice Center, the legal arm of the Illinois Policy Institute, filed suit against the state’s EDR law, requesting that all precinct-level EDR systems be blocked because while large counties must provide EDR in every polling place, smaller counties are only required to provide it at a central location. Notably, the law doesn’t forbid those counties from offering EDR at all precincts, and indeed election officials in small counties themselves lobbied for the exemption from in-precinct EDR.

In response to the lawsuit, the ACLU of IL and Chicago Lawyers’ Committee together with Better Government Association, League of Women Voters of Illinois, and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform filed an an amicus brief urging the court to preserve EDR and, if anything, extend it in smaller counties. Although U.S. District Court Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan granted the motion to block EDR just six weeks before the November general election, a three-judge panel from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals stayed and then vacated that decision. Illinois voters from every county used EDR during the 2016 general election.

Illinois rolled out Election Day Registration with a 2014 pilot program. Around 9,000 voters took advantage that year, and in 2015 lawmakers expanded it and made it permanent. Around 121,000 eligible persons registered and voted using EDR during the 2016 general election. Thousands of voters across the state have used EDR so far in 2018.