CHICAGO — Same-day voter registration likely will be available at certain Illinois polling stations for the Nov. 8 election, election officials and civil rights groups said Wednesday in the wake of this week’s appeals court ruling, though Republican-affiliated groups remain hopeful they can still block the provision by then.
The stay by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which happened late Tuesday, temporarily cancels a lower-court ruling that halted poll-level registration for voters due to what the judge said was discrimination against rural GOP-leaning areas of the state. But the full appeal is still pending, so Republicans may have a victory before Election Day.
However, the higher court’s decision to issue a stay could be seen as a signal that it is sympathetic to same-day registration proponents, ACLU of Illinois spokesman Edwin Yohnka said.
The appellate court hasn’t yet laid out a timetable for hearing arguments and ruling on the appeal, but it’s likely to happen sometime this month.
At issue is same-day registration in highly populated areas, which started as a pilot program in 2014 but was expanded in 2015 by lawmakers. Roughly 110,000 people registered at their polling places in the March primary.
But the conservative Illinois Policy Institute filed a lawsuit on behalf of a Republican congressional candidate from north-central Illinois and a county party committee in August, arguing the poll-level registration rules violated the U.S. Constitution by creating an unfair and unequal system because voters in less populated and GOP-leaning areas of Illinois didn’t have equal access. For example, a rural voter might have to travel longer to register at a clerk’s office.
Jacob Huebert, a lawyer for the Liberty Justice Center, the legal arm of the institute, said he trusts that appeals court judges will carefully consider all the arguments before any final, decisive ruling.
“This stay does not necessary mean that the state will prevail,” he said Wednesday.
No matter how the court handles same-day registration at polling stations, Election Day registration will still be available, though only at county or election jurisdiction offices.
The ACLU, which hasn’t weighed in on constitutional questions surrounding the case, says its main criticism was that the provision permitting same-day registration at polling places was halted by the lower court so close to the election. They were concerned that it would cause confusion and dissuade some from even trying to vote.
Cook County Clerk David Orr, a Democrat who along with Attorney General Lisa Madigan has argued for the same-day registration, previously described the suit as a “thinly veiled partisan effort” to disenfranchise voters.