By Christen Gall and Guy-Lee King
In a quick change of events Tuesday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals halted U.S. District Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan’s ruling on election day registration in Illinois.
The three-judge panel, consisting of Diane Wood, Kenneth Ripple and Ilana Rovner, issued a temporary stay of Der-Yeghiayan’s injunction, filed on Sept. 27, which limited Illinois’ three-year-old practice of allowing voters to register to vote at precincts on election day. In Der-Yeghiayan’s original ruling, only a few locations, likely downtown, would be allowed to hold election day registration, a move that many speculated could impact the number of voters who come out to the polls, particularly in Chicago.
Jim Allen, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, estimated that 100,000 voters could come out on election day to register in Chicago. He predicted that changing the election day voting locations would create confusion for voters in the city and hailed the appeals court ruling.
“This is a victory for voters and for voter day registration,” Allen said. “We’re back to our number one job.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who filed the appeal to the stay Der-Yegiayan’s injunction on Sept. 30, said in a press release that the move was designed to ensure “that we hold a fair, open and legal election and that all voters’ rights are protected.”
The attorneys have been asked to file statements on Thursday explaining why the appeal should be expedited.
Attorney Jacob Huebert of the Liberty Justice Center who filed the lawsuit in August to overturn election day registration remains committed to his original argument. He believes there’s a strong chance the court could issue a decision before the election.
“We’re still hopeful that it [the court] will accept our decision,” said Huebert. “Our argument stays the same.”
But University of Chicago assistant professor of law Nicholas Stephanopoulos, who teaches and researches election law, believes that broadening election day registration laws are good for democracy.
“I think the court of appeals was right to stay the district court’s ruling, given the oddity of the district court’s remedy,” wrote Stephanopoulos in an email. “Even if there is a legal problem here, which is far from clear, it shouldn’t be addressed by reducing turnout and barring election day registration throughout the state.”
Across the country, election day registration is in effect in 13 states, including the four battleground states of Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, as well as in the District of Columbia.
“In crafting remedies, the courts should err on the side of increasing voter participation,” said Stephanopoulos. “I don’t expect the court of appeals will rule on the merits before the election.”