A federal judge has temporarily suspended Election Day voter registration at Illinois polling places.
The judge on Tuesday granted a preliminary injunction sought by the Liberty Justice Center, which is associated with the Illinois Policy Institute, a free-market think tank that has received donations from Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
At issue is a 2015 Illinois law, under which Election Day voting and registration is allowed at polling places in counties with populations of at least 100,000. In smaller counties, voters can complete their Election Day registration at the offices of their local clerks.
The Liberty Justice Center argues that the law violates the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause because it makes "it more difficult for people to register to vote in some areas of the state than in others."
"This scheme's arbitrary geographic discrimination appears to have been designed to benefit candidates who draw support from high-population counties at the expense of candidates who draw support from low-population counties," the lawsuit states.
Jacob Huebert, the Liberty Justice Center's senior attorney, argues that if Illinois has same-day voter registration at polling places, "it should be available statewide. And it should be fair."
An appeal of today's court ruling is expected, according to Cook County Clerk David Orr. He released the following statement today:
I am extremely disappointed that a US District Judge granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting Election Day Registration in precincts. This lawsuit was a thinly-veiled partisan effort by the right-wing Illinois Policy Institute to disenfranchise voters.
Election Day Registration works, and it works well. 110,000 voters throughout Illinois took advantage of EDR in the March Primary--voters who otherwise would have been unable to cast a ballot. EDR has been the law in Illinois since 2014 and voters have come to rely on it.
Simply put, today's ruling will lead to voters being disenfranchised on November 8th.
The Election is 41 days away. Changing sensible Election Day rules and procedures with a little over a month until Election Day is irresponsible and undermines our democracy. This ruling will lead to confusion at the polls on what may be one of the most watched Election Days in our time.
We are weighing our options in the wake of the judge's decision. We expect to appeal this decision as soon as possible, and will continue to work to ensure that access to registration and voting is open to everyone.
I urge everyone to register to vote immediately. Please visit https://ova.elections.il.gov/RegistrationLookup.aspx to check your registration status.
Voting rights groups, including the ACLU 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, defended the law in an amicus brief.
"We are concerned about the impact of this decision, changing the rules of voting so close to this hotly-contested election," Edwin Yohnka, the ACLU of Illinois' director of communications and public policy, said in a statement. "We must continue to use every available method to ensure that every eligible voter in our state can access the ballot - not create obstacles to the franchise. We encourage the State of Illinois and the Cook County Clerk - parties in this matter - to explore all legal options to protect voters' rights. Thousands of people who are depending on EDR could lose the ability to vote if this ruling stands for the November general election."
Coincidentally, today's ruling came down on National Voter Registration Day.
"To suspend Election Day Registration and suppress the vote less than two weeks before the voter registration deadline will hurt communities across Illinois who were counting on being able to register and vote on November 8," Trevor Gervais with Common Cause Illinois, a member group of the Just Democracy Illinois coalition, said in a statement.
"The court's decision to side with a conservative group with ties to ALEC and the Koch brothers, combined with Governor Rauner's recent veto of Automatic Voter Registration, signals a step backwards for voting rights in Illinois and continues a nationwide trend of coordinated and well-funded voter suppression efforts."
Christian Diaz, executive director of Chicago Votes, added: "We are disappointed in the court's decision--and, moreover, we are alarmed at the prospect that tens of thousands of voters could be disenfranchised on November 8 as a direct result of this injunction. In March, more than 110,000 voters from across the state used Election Day registration. There is clearly a need for this fundamental right to be upheld."