[JURIST] Illinois voters on Tuesday approved the Illinois Right to Vote Amendment [text], which bans all voter discrimination on the basis of race, color, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or income. This provision will amend the Suffrage and Election Article of the Illinois Constitution [texts]. The amendment was primarily sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan [official website] and pushed by House Democrats in response to voter identification laws that have been proposed by many states but criticized for their discriminatory effects. The law was widely supported by members of both parties in the Illinois legislature, passing the House of Representatives with 95 percent of the vote and unanimously approved by the Senate. This support was echoed Tuesday by the people of Illinois who passed the amendment with over 72 percent of the votes.
Voting rights [JURIST backgrounder] have been hotly debated in dozens of US states in recent years. Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia are just a few of the states currently embroiled in litigation with state residents and civil rights advocacy groups over the legality of voter ID legislation. Rights groups argue that voter ID legislation is an attempt by conservatives to preserve their political power through voter discrimination and suppression of minorities. The issue of voting rights was recently the subject of a Congressional study [JURIST report] released in October, looking at how voter ID laws affect voter turnout. The study found that in states with stricter voter ID laws, there have been substantial drops in voter turnout, especially impacting minority groups and young voters, compared to states without such restrictions.