Election Officials Plan Action under Voter Act

Article excerpt

If the polls seem more crowded and the voting lines longer next year, it'll likely be because of the National Voter Registration Act.

And if the the voting goes smoothly and all the voters are properly registered, it'll likely be because of your local election board.

For three days last week, Illinois election officials from around the state met at the Holiday Inn in Collinsville to talk about how they'll get new voters registered under the new National Voter Registration Act.

It allows people to register by mail, or when they get a driver's license or do business with other state agencies.

So far, Illinois hasn't complied by passing the necessary accompanying state law. But election officials are hopeful the Legislature will act in time for the new rules to go into effect Jan. 1.

The East St. Louis Election Board hosted last week's state conference.

"It's a concern as to what will come out of the Legislature, how state legislation will affect implementation of the Act," said James Lewis, East St. Louis election director and an organizer of the event. Until the Legislature acts, "we're not exactly sure what the requirements will be."

Still, the election officials found plenty to talk about regarding how they'll get the job done. How will election officials prevent vote fraud? How will they identify from mail registration the gender of voters with names such as Jonnie or Jeri? How will election officials protect the confidentiality of people who are using various state welfare agencies?

"We hope the state Legislature will address some of those concerns," Lewis said. "You don't want to inconvenience the voters, but you do want a means of verifying and validating " the applications, Lewis said.

Despite the potential pitfalls, Lewis and the other election officials expressed enthusiasm for the purpose of the law.

Arnette R. Hubbard, a Chicago election board commissioner and the president of The Association of Election Commission Officials of Illinois, explained: "The public will be served."

"There will be many more opportunities for people to register and vote,' she said. "We have to keep selling and promoting democracy."

Elsie Janson, executive director of the Rockford election board, agreed about the importance of the registration law.

"It'll mean a little more work and expense," particularly postage, she said, "but it will increase registration. I hope it increases voting."

"In a few years, we'll forget we every worried about it. …

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