* Most of the mainstream media continues to ignore this story…
Five groups, led by the ACLU, are asking a federal judge today to preserve Election Day registration in local polling places in advance of the November presidential election. U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan is presiding over the case.
The argument, from the ACLU: “The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Better Government Association, the League of Women Voters of Illinois and the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform in Harlan v. Scholtz, an effort by a political candidate to block implementation of the current EDR system approved by the legislature, piloted during the 2014 general election, and used in the March 2016 primary election. “This election has generated interest and fervor across the nation,” said Colleen K. Connell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Illinois. ‘Eliminating Election Day registration in local precincts so close to an election could leave thousands of people unable to vote.’”
Unmentioned above is that the lawsuit was filed by an arm of the Bruce Rauner-allied Illinois Policy Institute. The group wants the federal court to halt all precinct-level election day voter registration this year because smaller counties are only required to provide a central location for election day registration, while larger counties are required to provide in-precinct election day registration. To them, that’s not fair.
* From the brief…
If the Court determines that preliminary injunctive relief is required, it should extend Election Day registration at polling places in low-population counties, rather than deprive voters in high-population counties of that opportunity. Such a remedy would support, rather than undermine, the public interest in allowing qualified voters to vote, would appropriately respect legislative intent, and would more directly remedy the plaintiffs’ alleged injuries. […]
(T)he requested injunction will overturn voters’ reasonable expectations. In preparation for November’s election, voter education and get-out-the-vote organizations have undertaken massive voter education campaigns, getting the message out to thousands of voters that they can vote on Election Day even if they have not registered or their registration is out of date. Those voters have every right to rely on a state statute guaranteeing their right to vote at their local polling place on Election Day. Turning those voters away at the polls would betray those expectations. Voters in high-population counties – including both Republican and Democratic leaning counties – would be confused at precinct polling places and face long lines at EDR sites, assuming that they make it to an EDR site at all. Meanwhile, short- staffed election personnel would have to spend significant additional resources in assisting voters at both types of locations, all thanks to plaintiffs’ decision to file suit more than a year after the statute’s effective date and less than three months before the election.
Moreover, the burden of an injunction limiting EDR is likely to fall disproportionately on identifiable sub-groups. For example, the research surveyed by plaintiffs’ expert suggests that those most likely to be disenfranchised by such an injunction include “the young, the residentially mobile, and those with moderate level of income and education.” Additionally, although plaintiffs do not mention it, the Fourth Circuit recently found that the elimination of same-day registration unlawfully discriminated against African Americans. The Court noted that “African American voters disproportionately used same-day registration when it was available,” and that African Americans “are more likely to move between counties and thus are more likely to need to re-register.” The possibility of a disproportionate racial impact is another reason the public interest weighs heavily against the proposed injunction.
Finally, the plaintiffs incorrectly assert that “a preliminary injunction would simply preserve the status quo ante.” The current EDR system went into effect in June 2015 and was in place for the March 2016 primary election. Plaintiffs’ proposed remedy would disrupt the status quo. […]
Shutting down EDR at precinct polling places in high-population counties will deny many qualified voters the right to vote, in derogation of the public interest. The plaintiffs have the burden of proving that (1) allowing those citizens to vote will cause the plaintiffs irreparable harm; and (2) the alleged harm to plaintiffs outweighs the harm to those citizens. They have made no such showing. […]
In this case, an injunction requiring low-population counties to provide EDR at all polling places would be far more respectful of state legislative policy judgments than an injunction prohibiting high-population counties from doing so. The plaintiffs would have this Court order a direct violation of state statute: Counties that are required by Illinois law to provide EDR at polling places may not do so. By contrast, an injunction extending EDR to all counties would be wholly within the bounds of existing state law, which already allows the low-population counties to offer EDR at polling places. The choice is between ordering some counties to do something that state law prohibits, or ordering other counties to do something that state law allows.
We’ve seen lots of stories this week about a mythical Russian government hack on the state board of elections, and almost nothing this month about a very real lawsuit that could have a serious impact on election day.
*** UPDATE 1 *** The attorney general also filed a brief yesterday. Click here to read it.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Another amicus brief was separately filed by a coalition that includes Asian-Americans Advancing Justice, Common Cause, Change Illinois, Illinois PIRG and ICIRR. Click here to read it.
*** UPDATE 3 *** The federal judge also allowed Cook County to intervene. Click here to read its brief.
*** UPDATE 4 *** The Illinois Policy Institute’s latest filing is here.
*** UPDATE 5 *** The League of Women Voters’ press release about its amicus brief is here.