Sunday, August 6, 2017
The Seventh Circuit ruled last week that plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their challenge to Illinois's same-day voter-registration law. The ruling sends the case back to the district court for proceedings on the merits, although the ruling strongly suggests that the law is constitutional.
The case, brought by a Republican congressional candidate in the 2016 election and a county Republican party, alleged that Illinois's same-day registration law violated the Equal Protection Clause, because an opt-out provision would disadvantage voters in smaller counties, and thus comparatively boost Democratic voter turnout.
The law requires counties to provide same-day voter registration. But it includes an opt-out for smaller counties that don't have an electronic pollbook. Still, the law requires those counties to offer election-day registration at "the election authority's main office," as well as at "a polling place in each municipality where 20% or more of the county's residents reside if the election authority's main office is not located in that municipality."
The plaintiffs sought and received a preliminary injunction in the district court, but the Seventh Circuit stayed it before the 2016 election. Last week the Seventh Circuit vacated the injunction altogether.
The court said that the law didn't severely burden voters' constitutional right to vote, and so the district court improperly applied strict scrutiny. The court went on to say that the plaintiffs didn't demonstrate a likely success on the merits even under the less rigorous balancing test under Burdick v. Takushi. It concluded:
Even though [the Illinois law] does not force quite as many options on the smaller counties as it does on the 20 largest counties, it permits every county to adopt the default same-day rules, and it provides realistic same-day options even in the smaller places. This, couples with the lack of any data about which groups are disadvantaged and how, dooms the injunction.