SPRINGFIELD – A bill that would require county clerks to conduct early voting plus grace period registration and voting on Illinois college campuses cleared a Senate committee Tuesday.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, but is opposed by Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden and the Illinois County Clerks Association. Shelden, in a recent posting at the IlliniPundit. com site, estimated the cost at at least $75,000 per location. In Champaign County, according to Frerichs' bill, the county clerk would have to establish a special grace period and early voting stations at both the University of Illinois and Parkland College.
The sites would have to be open during normal business hours. Registration and voting would not be limited to students only.
Democrats on the Senate Elections Committee voted for the bill while Republicans, including Sen. Dale Righter, R-Charleston, voted against it.
Sen. Randall Hultgren, R-Wheaton, voted against the measure although he called it "a good thing."
He said that Frerichs should promote a resolution that encourages local officials "to do everything they can to reach out to community colleges and our public universities.
"But this flies in the face of some things that a lot of us push against, that's putting mandates on other elected officials when we're not giving them resources. That's what this does, plus it takes away local control."
Madison County Clerk Mark Von Nida, a Democrat, testified against the bill, saying it would require county clerks to favor one community group over another. He said remote registration and voting has been more successful at what he called "community sites" than those on college campuses.
"What's going to happen here is that if we are mandated to do this at the education sites, then we will be favoring one group over, clearly, the rest of the community," Von Nida said. "So I personally oppose this as does the county clerks association."
But Frerichs argued that "every legislator laments the lack of voting participation by young people. This would reduce the barriers that exist in our democracy."
Asked by Righter if the state should provide the money to pay for the special campus sites, Frerichs responded, "I think if there were more money in the state treasury, I would love to help out. But I don't think that's a sufficient reason to not do something that would improve voter turnout among young people."
He mentioned Shelden's decision in some recent elections to publish a voter guide.
"My county clerk has done a very good job, when his budget had to be cut or he had to take on additional duties, of providing additional resources," Frerichs said. "The same argument could be made when he decided to publish a mailer that went to every voter in the county with his name plastered prominently on it. When people said, why don't you just return that money to the county and reduce property taxes, he made the argument that this is something that would increase voter participation."
The bill moves to the Senate floor, where Frerichs said he is hopeful.
"I would hope they'd look at it and give it due consideration," said Frerichs. "But I try not to predict what will happen in the Illinois General Assembly."