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Former legislator recalls AVR concerns about “rushed implementation that could lead to errors”

Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020

* From former Rep. Mike Fortner (R-West Chicago)…

Hi Rich,

I’ve been reading the reports over the “glitch” at the [secretary of state] over [automatic voter registration]. I thought you might be interested in some of the back story regarding the negotiation of the bill that may or may not have some relevancy.

When I was negotiating the AVR bill in 2017 one of the points of contention was the implementation date. The proponents wanted a firm date for implementation ahead of the 2018 election. I thought that was unreasonable and the SoS shouldn’t be trying to implement software for both REAL ID and AVR at the same time, but rather they should finish REAL ID then devote their attention to AVR. In the end a hard date of July 1, 2018, was part of the agreed bill, though I had some assurances that we could reopen the implementation date if necessary.

By the end of 2017, it was clear to me that the SoS and IL State BOE were not going to be ready on the aggressive date set in SB1933. I filed HB4749 (100th GA) in Feb 2018 to extend the implementation date that reflected the need to work on only one piece of software at a time - setting the date for AVR to 90 days after certification of the REAL ID database. My actual language is in the filed amendment, since LRB drafted the extension into the wrong section and I was up against the filing deadline. Despite some of our verbal agreements in 2017, the proponents didn’t want to lift the date and the pressure to get it done, so there was no hearing or vote on HB4749.

I don’t know if the extra time I sought in HB4749 would have helped the SoS avoid the mess they got in, and obviously it wouldn’t have affected the lack of transparency once the errors were identified. But, I thought you’d appreciate that rushed implementation that could lead to errors was a concern from the outset.


Advocates are now concerned with what they describe as unnecessary roadblocks the secretary of state’s office has included in the registration process.

Currently, citizens have access to an opt-out model of automatic voter registration when receiving a Real ID; when citizens receive a Real ID, they are automatically registered to vote unless they choose not to.

There is an opt-in process when getting a standard driver’s license or state ID in Illinois. Citizens need to check a box and sign their name attesting to citizenship to ensure that non-citizens don’t accidentally get registered, according to Matt Dietrich, spokesperson for the Illinois Board of Elections.

But, during the process, Illinoisans are required to submit a second signature — something advocates of automatic voter registration are wary of and feel is a requirement unrelated to voter eligibility.

* Indeed, this story was published just before the AVR glitch was widely reported

Automatic voter registration seemed to be the only thing Illinois state Democrats and Republicans could agree on in 2017. The bill received not only bipartisan, but unanimous support by state senators, making Illinois the 10th state to sign in automatic voter registration in August 2017.

Throughout the process of implementation, however, many advocates have had concerns with how the Secretary of State’s office has carried out the bill’s provisions.

The initial criticism was with the delay of implementation, which state officials tied to Illinois’ struggle to roll out Real ID. While the law set an original deadline of July 2018, most provisions were not enacted until July 2019.

Advocates are now concerned with what they describe as unnecessary roadblocks the secretary of state’s office has included in the registration process.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Jan 28, 20 @ 9:52 am:

    With the benefit of hindsight, I bet there are a lot of things that contributed to the “glitch” occurring.

    Let’s chat about what role the budget impasse played with the implementation of AVR before we start letting legislators take an “I was right” lap.

    I understand how this isn’t a great thing that happened, but accidentally registering a few people while trying to register all qualified people is much better than what we’ve done historically in this country and in this state where we have purposefully sought to disenfranchise people and communities.

    We’re making progress. We did a good thing. We made a very small number of errors.

    Republicans should own the good thing they were a part of instead of trying to blame others for the good thing we did.

  2. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Jan 28, 20 @ 10:04 am:

    SOS had 9 other states to look at. No excuses.

  3. - All This - Tuesday, Jan 28, 20 @ 10:37 am:

    But is registration in front of the grocery store any better? Wouldn’t the same problems come up if it was a software issue or if it was people checking the wrong box issue?

  4. - Upon Further Review - Tuesday, Jan 28, 20 @ 12:22 pm:

    =Candy Dogwood=

    Rep. Fortner has not made a career out of “I told you so”. Quite the opposite. He almost without question was the most intelligent Legislator in the GA during his tenure and ALWAYS did his homework. Always.

    Reasonable suggestions to complex issues were his forte. Had been in the majority he would have been a superstar. He was underutilized in the minority.

    Have never known Rep. Fortner to tell anything but the gospel truth. Ever.

    Did I mention he was consistently the smartest guy in the room? His intellect and well earned reputation as a problem solver and extraordinarily honest man require the benefit of the doubt.

  5. - Candy Dogood - Wednesday, Jan 29, 20 @ 12:06 am:

    @Upon Further Review

    Sorry about the delay in getting back to you. It’s a busy time of year for me.

    ===Rep. Fortner has not made a career out of “I told you so”.===

    I don’t come to Capitol Fax for Facebook quality straw-man arguments.

    ===Had been in the majority he would have been a superstar. He was underutilized in the minority.===

    Running as a candidate for the Republican Party is a choice he made. Remaining in the Republican caucus is a choice he made.

    It is not a circumstance that befell him. If he was “underutilized” it was because he chose to toss his lot in with the GOP.

    Skimming some of his final votes and seeing things like votes against teacher pay and votes against authorizing graduate student unions only reaffirms how happy I am that the party he chose remained in the minority.

    Like every GOP legislator during the Rauner administration, his career is blemished by the actions of the Governor he supported as that Governor managed the affairs of the people with intentional and sometimes malicious malfeasance. I appreciate his action on the veto override, and in this case is better than never, but let’s not fool ourselves into a delusion that legislators are victims of circumstances.

    They are most often responsible for the circumstances they make.

    As a holder of a Ph.D., a professor, and the committees he served on he should have been especially sensitive to the destruction caused to our public universities that will take decades to repair.

    It wasn’t my intention to discuss Mike Fortner’s legislative record, but you’re casting him as a saint to the extent you’re re-writing history.

    ===Did I mention he was consistently the smartest guy in the room?===

    I honestly don’t care how smart someone is if they don’t believe graduate students have the right to unionize or believe that teachers should be paid poverty wages.

    But I’m also not sure why you’re mounting this defense to things I never said over concerns I did not raise. Being a legislator that’s a physicist doesn’t make you less responsible for the outcome of your actions.

    Someone also doesn’t have to be flawless to be liked or appreciated for their contribution, but we also shouldn’t let former elected officials cherry pick the causes of implementation issues without considering the ones that won’t cast them as a praise worthy Cassandra.

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