The ACLU has advocated for years to improve access to the ballot box for all persons. A significant step forward in this area in Illinois came when the State adopted and implemented Election Day registration (EDR). Following a pilot, the new system was set to be used statewide for the November 2016 election. Just a few months before that election, the law was challenged.
The EDR program in Illinois requires all counties to allow voters to register on Election Day at the county election authority’s headquarters, at any early voting sites, and at all precinct polling places. Most counties with fewer than 100,000 people, however, may opt out of EDR at local polling places as long as they provide it at the electoral authority’s headquarters and in any other municipality that contains at least 20% of the county’s population.
This challenge by a Republican Congressional candidate and the Crawford County Republican Party claimed that this system violates the Equal Protection Clause because smaller counties are treated differently than larger counties. They requested a preliminary injunction eliminating EDR in local polling places statewide.
The ACLU filed an amicus brief – filed jointly with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the League of Women Voters of Illinois, the Better Government Association, and Illinois Campaign for Political Reform – argued that the proposed injunction will prevent thousands of people from voting this November. We argued that if the court grants any injunction at all, it should order the smaller counties to provide EDR in polling places, rather than ordering larger counties not to.
The district court granted the plaintiffs’ request for preliminary injunction, ordering the larger counties not to provide EDR in polling places. On October 4, 2016, however, the Seventh Circuit stayed the injunction. The court subsequently denied plaintiffs’ request to expedite the appeal, ensuring that EDR remained in place in polling places for the November 2016 election. The case remains pending in the district court.