New analysis: Automatic voter registration has boosted Illinois’ statewide voter roll

Media Contacts
Keegan Hollyer

Former Democracy and Civic Engagement Associate, Illinois PIRG

Illinois PIRG Education Fund spotlights success of the state’s automatic voter registration, urges further robust implementation

Illinois PIRG Education Fund

Voter registration applications have increased by 37% at Driver Services offices of the Secretary of State since the implementation of automatic voter registration (AVR), according to analysis released Wednesday by Illinois PIRG Education Fund. Since AVR’s implementation in July 2018, the system has helped register or update the voter registration of 1.3 million voters.  

“Democracy works best when everyone participates. Our analysis shows that automatic voter registration in Illinois is effective at getting more eligible voters registered, and keeping existing registrations accurate and up-to-date,” said Illinois PIRG Associate Keegan Hollyer. “Automatic registration can be an even greater success story in Illinois with stronger implementation at the Secretary of State’s office and other state agencies.”

Here are the main takeaways from the report:

  • AVR boosted voter registration: AVR’s impact is clearest at the agency the legislation focused on most: the Office of the Secretary of State. Voter registrations increased following AVR’s implementation by an estimated 111,000 per year, or 37%, at those offices. 
  • AVR has helped Illinois achieve better registration rates than nearby states: With the help of its AVR system, Illinois more than doubled the registration clip of eight other midwestern states between 2016-2020 and now has the greatest share of its eligible population registered to vote in the region.
  • AVR facilitated the rush of applications before the 2020 presidential election: the period between 2016 and 2020 saw a large jump in voter registrations relative to past election cycles. Between the presidential elections in those years, more than 1,000,000 new people registered to vote in Illinois—almost double the figure from the 2012-2016 presidential election cycle. A third of those new registrations took place through AVR at Secretary of State offices.

“Through automatic voter registration and other reforms, Illinois has established itself as a national leader in voter registration and modernizing its election administration,” said Illinois House Assistant Majority Leader Robyn Gabel, the state House sponsor of the automatic voter registration. “This analysis shows tangible progress and that when we eliminate obstacles to  Illinois voters participating in our democracy — they want to and will.”

While the AVR program has been successful, it’s a work in progress. The analysis offers some thoughts on how to make it even more user-friendly, including recommendations that the Secretary of State reduce the number of signatures required to complete the AVR application  and more fully integrate user testing and public consultation into the AVR implementation process. 

“I’m incredibly proud to have been part of the team that brought automatic voter registration to Illinois,” said Jay Young of Common Cause Illinois, speaking on behalf of the Just Democracy Illinois coalition. “But our coalition knows that more can be done to improve the registration experience for new voters. With the right implementation, automatic voter registration can still narrow Illinois’ persistent racial gaps in voting access and voter registration, making our democracy stronger, healthier, and more secure.”