Senate Week in Review: Jan. 20 – 24, 2020

​​​​McHenry, IL. — A major issue with the state’s Automatic Voter Registration program is raising questions about the integrity of Illinois’ elections. Meanwhile, as the Illinois General Assembly gears up for the spring session, and the process of filing new legislation begins, Senate Republicans continue to push for fair political maps. Locally, I had the privilege of participating in an Eagle Scout ceremony recognizing the accomplishments of a special young man. 

Non-citizens “accidentally” registered to vote
According to media reports, more than 500 people who are not citizens and are not legally eligible to vote in elections, were registered to vote through the state’s Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) system, which was signed into law in 2017.

The AVR system automatically registers voters when they apply for a driver’s license or state ID card, unless the individual opts out of the process. Between July 2, 2018, and December 13, 2019, the registration information of 574 people was “improperly forwarded” to the Illinois State Board of Elections, according to a December 18, 2019 letter from the Illinois Secretary of State’s office to the elections board.

The 574 individuals had all checked a “no” box on a question asking if they were US citizens. According to the Secretary of State’s office, the issue was due to a “programming error” involved with the registration process. The Illinois State Board of Elections notified the local election authorities where the individuals reside, and has sent letters to the individuals themselves. Of the improperly registered voters, 126 live in Chicago, 135 in other parts of Cook County, 56 in DuPage County, 54 in Lake County, 1 in Christian County, and 1 in Sangamon County.

All 19 Republican members of the Illinois Senate sent a letter to the Secretary of State’s office seeking further information about the issue. The request included information on which locations erroneously registered voters, what investigatory steps would be taken and what would be done to prevent situations like this in the future. 

“It is imperative the residents of Illinois know their elections are being managed and conducted in a lawful manner, and ensuring our laws are being implemented correctly is a practical matter, not a partisan one,” the letter stated.

Since being signed into law in August of 2017, the Illinois AVR system registered more than 600,000 individuals to vote.

Push for fair maps continues
As a new legislative session begins, Senate Republicans are again calling on the chamber to take action fixing the current partisan practice of drawing gerrymandered or politically-manipulated maps.

Every ten years, the state is required to redraw legislative and Congressional districts to match the results of the most recent census. Illinois currently has a “winner take all” system where one party has the complete power to draw the maps, which typically leads to confusing and strangely shaped or “gerrymandered” districts.

They note that the maps are typically drawn not to represent the people of Illinois and their communities best, but to offer the party in power the best chance at electoral success. The process is often criticized for allowing politicians to pick their districts, instead of the people choosing their representatives.

Unfortunately, numerous attempts throughout the years to fix the politically-biased system were blocked by legislative leaders and lawsuits. Still, the Illinois General Assembly does have the power to put the question of whether to fix the current system on the ballot for voters to decide. The Senators noted the concept of fair maps has broad bipartisan support, and current Governor JB Pritzker expressed his support for the idea, along with former President Barack Obama making the issue a key component of his speech to the General Assembly in 2016.

Legislative process begins anew
State Senators and Representatives are finalizing their legislative agendas and filing their proposals in legislative form. With the spring legislative session set to begin on January 28th, lawmakers need to file their bills soon so the ideas can be acted upon in the coming months.  

The deadline for the introduction of substantive bills in the Senate, which deal with new laws and changes to existing laws, is on February 14th. Those bills then have until March 27th to be heard in committees, and until April 24th to be called for a vote in the chamber. After that, the Senate considers legislation that has passed the House and appropriations or spending bills, which will form the state’s budget. The session is scheduled to adjourn on May 31st. 

Recognizing an Eagle Scout
I had the pleasure recently to present a Senate Resolution to Conor Rada (pictured right) of Boy Scout Troop 679 for attaining the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Eagle Scout Award is Scouting’s highest rank. The award ceremony highlights the courage, determination and perseverance of our youth, and gives me great hope for the future leaders of our communities. It was also great to see some “older” Eagle Scouts in attendance showing support.

Only about 4 percent of Boy Scouts earn the Eagle Scout rank each year, so it is a phenomenal achievement. 

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