Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2013, 2:54 pm
Editorial: Good idea for 'our Illinois'?
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
We've long advocated just about any good idea for getting more Americans to vote on Election Day.
So one might expect us to use Monday's start of early voting in Illinois' Consolidated Election Primary as a fitting occasion to lead the cheers for a movement to increase Illinois voter rolls by allowing online registration.
We are, of course, intrigued by the notion, which was included among a smorgasbord of proposals in Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State Address. But we are by no means ready to endorse the concept without an awful lot more detail about how to keep the process from being abused in a state with a well-earned reputation for playing its politics fast and loose.
We also join critics dismayed at the governor focusing attention in his constitutionally mandated speech on that and many other issues and not solely on resolving the most important crisis facing Illinois: the more than $95 million pension hole sucking the economic life out of the state. But introduce it, he has, and so it will be explored. We trust it will be done with much more attention than the governor's office has hitherto given it.
"We must move our election process into the 21st century," the governor declared last week. But in doing so, he should have said, it's also important to keep in mind Illinois' past and present when it comes to politicians behaving badly. Concerns about corruption cannot be overblown.
We are, after all, the state to which the phrase "vote early and often" is most often credited. One that just saw a former governor released from federal prison while another remains a guest of the federal Department of Corrections for convictions related to campaign finance corruption. One that may soon see a former congressional rising star make his way to prison for a lengthy stay as part of a plea agreement on campaign corruption charges, if Chicago media reports are to be believed. It is against that backdrop that online registration should be considered.
In a perfect world, the idea has great promise. Proponents say that it could capture the attention of the 2 million eligible, but unregistered voters in the state. Young people, age 18-24, who have been raised on the computer, are especially likely to take advantage of it. Some also suggest that online applications could help make registration more accurate by eliminating problems county personnel have in deciphering handwritten applications. Online registration also can ensure that all the information needed to be collected is.
Besides, proponents say, it's not like Illinois online registration would have to reinvent the wheel. There is evidence that online registration can work as intended. According to wire service reports, 15 states allow online registration and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission reports that more than three-quarters of a million voters registered online for the 2010 midterm elections. Those numbers are worth celebrating, to be sure. But that doesn't mean that expanding the practice to Illinois adds up to a good idea.
So far, there are precious few details forthcoming from Gov. Quinn. The secretary of state's office -- the agency which handles motor voter registration -- said last week it had not been contacted. Neither was the Illinois State Board of Elections. The governor's office also said last week details had not yet been worked out. We anxiously await them.
In his speech Wednesday, the governor talked often of how things should be in "our Illinois." In crafting a plan to allow online registration, we had better also keep in mind how things in "our Illinois" have for too long been when it comes to politics.