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Local News

Will, Grundy clerks weigh in after Rep. Batinick eyes changes to voter registration law

A "Polling Place" sign points voters to the voting booth Tuesday at VFW Cantigny Post 367 in Joliet.
A "Polling Place" sign points voters to the voting booth Tuesday at VFW Cantigny Post 367 in Joliet.

PLAINFIELD – After witnessing voters walking away from the polls Election Day due to long lines, some Will County Board members are backing state Rep. Mark Batinick’s push to change Illinois’ newly tested same-day voter registration law.

The law requires counties like Will to have same-day voter registration capabilities at each polling place. Batinick, R-Plainfield, said his proposed bill – once amended – would require just one same-day registration site per township.

That would reduce the number of same-day sites from the statutorily required 300 to 24 in Will County. The remaining 276 regular polling sites would be reserved for those who registered ahead of time, he said.

Batinick said he’s heard stories of would-be voters walking away from the polls.

“They couldn’t vote because there was a long line. And why was there a long line? Because people were registering to vote at that location,” Batinick said.

Batinick said he envisions centralized locations with high-speed Internet, on-demand ballot printing capabilities and election judges trained specifically to register voters.

“That way, you don’t disenfranchise voters,” he said.

Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots said 4,889 Will County residents registered to vote on Election Day. With a $1.3 million price tag for implementation, that’s a cost of $265 per voter, she said.

The added responsibility on election judges may be overwhelming, said Will County Board Republican Caucus Chairman Chuck Maher, R-Naperville. He noted during last week’s County Board meeting he was given a federal ballot on Election Day. The backside was blank and lacked local voting options.

“So there are folks out there who did not get a chance to vote because our guys were overwhelmed, I think, at some level, and were making these kinds of silly mistakes,” Maher said.

Some local races can be won or lost by 10 votes, he added.

“When 25 people walk out of a polling booth, or if 10 bad ballots get handed out, you’ve now skewed an election,” Maher said. “And that’s a problem.”

Will County Board Speaker Jim Moustis, R-Frankfort, said he visited about 15 polling places on Election Day.

“If this whole law was to give more people the opportunity to vote, it had just the opposite effect,” Moustis said. “It was about [5:30 p.m.] at one of the locations and people just started walking out.”

Schultz Voots said nobody was turned away if they were in line by 7 p.m., but some did have to wait.

Grundy County Clerk Kay Olson said Election Day went smooth with nearly 450 people registering to vote. But Olson said she’s glad Batinick is revisiting the law.

“It’s a burden on the counties and on voters. Everyone wants everyone to get a chance to vote, but you have people who registered in a timely manner. It should not affect these voters. The way this is right now, it does,” she said.

Batinick said he wants to amend House Bill 2936 – a bill he introduced in 2015 that determined same-day registration sites based on population sizes – to establish one site per township. He said he will amend the bill to reflect those changes once it leaves the Illinois House Rules Committee.

Lake County Clerk Carla Wyckoff said she wants to know more about the legislation before forming an opinion. Batinick’s per-township proposal would reduce her same-day sites from 122 to 18.

“You would have to weigh that against [voter opportunity] and having sites spread throughout the county,” she said.

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