Fair Elections

Is money a factor in Illinois campaigns? Why do only 56 percent of people vote in Illinois? Learn about our election system and share your ideas for how to make it fair.

Back to Issue Home

Fair Elections

What is Election Reform?

Our democracy is based on public participation in the form of voting. The many details of how we conduct an election affect whether our elections work. Election administrators will generally try to balance accessibility, security, and cost-effectiveness when designing a voting system. Election reform looks at the systems and laws that govern elections, and asks if there are changes in the structure of our elections, the ways we allow people to register and to vote, or regulations to other factors that may influence elections, such as money spent on campaigns.

Rules governing Illinois’ election system

States handle many of the details involved with staging an election. In Illinois, the State Board of Elections and the county clerk offices handle most election administration responsibilities. In total, Illinois has 110 election jurisdictions. 

Registration

Illinois offers several ways to register to vote. You can register in person year round at most government service buildings.  The only time you cannot register to vote is for the 27 days leading up to an election, or the 2 days immediately following an election.  To register to vote in Illinois Two forms of identification with at least one showing your current residence address is needed when you register in-person. If you register by mail sufficient proof of identity is required by submission of your driver's license number or State identification card number. If you don't have either of those, verification by the last 4 digits of the your social security number, a copy of a current and valid photo identification, or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check, or other government document that shows your name and address will be required. A person may also demonstrate sufficient proof of identity by submission of a photo identification issued by a college or university accompanied by either a copy of the applicant's contract or lease for a residence or any postmarked mail delivered to the applicant at his or her current residence address. 

Illinois also offers grace period voting, for those that may have forgotten to register fully 27 days before an election. With grace period voting, eligible residents may appear in person at their local election authority to register and cast a ballot on the same day, up until 3 days prior to the election.

Illinois is working towards a system of online voter registration as well, to be implemented July 1, 2014.

Only 67% of Illinois’ eligible population is registered to vote.

Voting

Election day in Illinois is the first Tuesday in November.  To make it easier for people to get to the polls Illinois also offers early voting at several locations throughout the state, beginning 15 days before an election and stopping 3 days before election day. 

What are some current topics for reform?

Voter reform frequently centers on finding ways to increase participation in elections, without sacrificing the integrity of elections.  Only 56% of eligible voters participated in Illinois last statewide election. Equally frustrating, 49.6% of Illinois citizens say they lack confidence in Illinois’ elections.

On one side, the need to show some type of proof of who you are can leave eligible citizens from exercising a fundamental right, intentionally impacting certain populations more than others. On the flip side, the risk of voter fraud increases without an identification tool. 

On one side, with such low voter registration and an even lower voter turnout, there is a clear policy need to strengthen voter engagement. On the flip side, a democracy should be careful not to force voting on those who do not wish to participate as it is a right, not an obligation.

Common voting reform efforts that focus on increasing participation include:

  • Instituting same day voter registration
  • Changing voting day to weekend or holiday

 

Common voting reforms that focus on increasing integrity in elections include:

  • Requiring voters to show an ID with photo at time of voting
  • Strict use of provisional ballots, if a voter does not present correct identification on voting day, they offered a provisional ballot to cast their vote, and are required to take further action to have their provisional ballot counted.

Campaign Finance

States also have the ability to shape some campaign finance laws-or the rules governing how money is spent on campaigns.  Many of the laws that govern campaign finance stem from the national government and national Supreme Court rulings but states do have the ability to set campaign contribution limits, as long as their laws do not contradict those higher rulings. Over $84 million were spent on state-wide campaigns in Illinois in 2010, including contributions to candidates, PACs, and political parties etc.

Under Illinois laws, campaign finance committees limit candidate finance committees to accepting only:

  • $5,300 from an individual (excluding immediate family members)
  • $10,500 from a corporation, labor organization or association
  • $52,600 from a Candidate Political Committee or Political Action Committee
  • Unlimited from a Political Party Committee during a General or Consolidated Election cycle
  • Unlimited from a Political Party Committee during a Primary Election cycle in which the candidate does not seek nomination at a Primary Election

These limits govern funds given directly by a person, political party or other defined group directly to a candidate’s political committee.

 Political Parties and Political Action Committees may also raise campaign funds and are governed by their own contribution limits.  They may accept:

  • $10,500 from an individual*
  • $21,100 from a corporation, labor organization, association or Political Party Committee
  • $52,600 from a Political Action Committee or Candidate Political Committee

Illinois has a unique campaign finance law, which allows leaders of the legislative body to have their own fundraising powers, equal to that of a political party.  The Senate President, Speaker of the House, and Minority Leader from both chambers may each control a “leader committee,” with the same contribution limits as a political party.

Some of the Reform Conversations

There are a number of conversations happening across the country, as money in politics becomes a hot-topic for democracy. Money in politics aka campaign finance reform includes limiting campaign contributions from special interests, creating public finance systems to reward candidates who raise smaller donations from more people, and more. 

On one side, allowing leaders of the legislative body to have their own fundraising powers, equal to that of a political party, can help to systematically sustain individuals and parties to keep their positions of power – leaving little measures of accountability to those who hold public office. On the flip side, a two party system has always had clear leadership roles that are important to effective legislating because they organize conversations and ideas.

On one side, allowing organizations and political action committees to have higher contribution rates than that set for individuals threatens the voice and equal power of the individual citizen and allows for special interests to ‘buy their seat at the table.’ On the flip side, special interests are important to the political system because they inform the conversation with facts from both sides and should be able to express their interests without limitations.        

One major challenge to changing campaign finance laws is that to do so requires the approval of our elected officials, the people who are most affected by and most dependent on the finance laws. They often have little incentive to change the system that governs them.


Questions to consider:

  • Does the ability to spend or raise more money than another candidate make an election unfair?
  • What can we do to increase voter turnout?
  • How much control should voters or elected officials have over making changes to how elections are administered or campaigns are financed?

 

Additional Resources:

Find out which states have implemented reforms like portabilityelectronic versions of voter rollsonline registrationelectronic or automated registration (a term we use for automating voter registration when people are doing business at government offices) upgrades to error correction systems and allowing people to register to vote before turning 18.

NCSL: Absentee & Early Voting

Early Voting in Illinois

Illinois Campaign Finance Act: Contribution Limits

Follow the Money

Illinois State Board of Elections