Illinois is among the easiest states in the country in which to cast a ballot, according to a new study.
The report, titled “Cost of Voting in American States: 2020,” uses a “Cost of Voting Index” that examines a number of different factors related to the time and effort it takes to vote in U.S. presidential elections. Both stages of the voting process – registering to vote and casting a ballot – are combined into a single index value.
Illinois moved up to fourth from a 12th place ranking two years ago, thanks in large part to a recent law.
“It’s the automatic voting registration process,” said Dr. Scot Schraufnagel, co-author of the study who also serves as chair of the Department of Political Science at Northern Illinois University. “If you go to a department of motor vehicle location in Illinois, or other state-run agencies, you will be automatically registered to vote. And, as a result of the pandemic, Illinois has made absentee voting very simple and straightforward.”
The report concluded that a state’s registration deadline remains the number one factor in explaining the cost of voting. In the new report, that’s followed by the number of early voting days.
“What we’ve seen happen since 2016 is many states making it easier to vote,” Schraufnagel said. “We’ve gotten new automatic voter registration processes in many states and also voting centers, in some states, where you don’t have to vote in your precinct.”
Virginia had the biggest jump since the last report, moving from 49th to 12th. The state legislature there approved an automatic voter registration law, eliminated the in-person registration deadline, and made Election Day a state holiday.
“There’s a couple of instances where states have kind of gone out of their way to make voting more difficult,” Schraufnagel said. “We see in Texas, Arizona, and Georgia the elimination of polling locations by more than 50-percent in some parts of the state.”
Contrary to some beliefs, Schraufnagel says the aggressive efforts this cycle to turn out voters this cycle might not necessarily help one party more than the other.
“I know there are some Democratic party operatives sort of hoping against hope that high voter turnout will help their party,” Schraufnagel said. “It may, but up to this point, we don’t have any evidence that it does until perhaps you get to the very highest levels of voter [turnout].”
Schraufnagel argues that improving the ease of voting nationwide potentially could bump presidential election turnout by an average of ten points.
The authors of the study noted that some states made temporary changes to election law in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those adjustments were not factored into the 2020 report.
The study put Oregon, Washington, and Utah on top of the list of easiest states to vote, while Texas, Georgia, and Missouri came in at the bottom.
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