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Pritzker signs election bill to increase party power in primary elections

A voting booth is pictured in Sangamon County.
Andrew Campbell
A voting booth is pictured in Sangamon County.

Changes to primary election fundraising, the electoral college and the state’s voter registration database are now law after Gov. JB Pritzker signed a wide-ranging bill on Monday.

The legislation,containing several unrelated election measures, passed near the end of the legislature’s spring session on a vote of 68-38 in the House and 51-3 in the Senate.

A measure loosening restrictions on political parties’ spending during primary campaigns sparked pushback from some House Republicans during debate of the bill.

Under the new law, parties will be allowed to transfer an unlimited amount of funds to candidates during primary elections. In previous elections, parties were limited in the amount of money they could give candidates based on the office they sought. That provision was put in place in 2009 as part of a reform campaign by then-Gov. Pat Quinn, who took office after his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, was removed from office following a corruption scandal.

The measure comes after several primary elections earlier this year where House Speaker Chris Welch sided with challengers over incumbents of his own party. In the Senate, a party-backed candidate also lost their primary election. Appointed Sen. Natalie Toro, D-Chicago, lost to progressive challenger Graciela Guzman.

Read more: Lawmakers OK bill to require ‘faithful’ electors in 2024, loosen campaign finance rules

Critics, including campaign finance advocacy group Reform for Illinois, said the measure could lead to legislative leaders’ centralizing their power over lawmakers while also making elections more expensive.

Another provision in the bill would change how the state handles the electors it sends to the electoral college during presidential elections. Under the new law, electors – those who actually cast Illinois’ votes for president – would be required to vote for the presidential candidate that won the state’s presidential election.

Previously, electors were not legally bound to vote for the winner of the popular vote and could instead act as a “faithless elector,” casting their vote for another candidate.

While unprecedented in Illinois, several electors elsewhere have voted against their state’s winner in recent elections. In 2016, seven of the 538 electors successfully voted against their state’s winner. Three others also voted faithlessly, although their votes were invalidated.

Illinois law will require electors to sign a pledge to vote faithfully and, if they don’t, they would be immediately replaced with an alternate who also signed a pledge to vote in accordance with the popular vote.

The measure was based on model legislation that has been adopted in 12 other states. Illinois is now the 34th state that bars faithless electors. While some states impose a penalty while still counting the vote, Illinois will not count faithless electoral college votes.

The newly signed law also contains a provision crafted in response to a situation where voters’ home addresses and birthdays were published on a network of conservative websites.

Local Government Information Services, a company backed by conservative operatives Dan Proft and Brian Timpone, published voter information earlier this year and was quickly sued by Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office.

The law now explicitly says that voter registration data cannot be used for “any personal, private, or commercial purpose, including, but not limited to, the intimidation, threat, or deception of any person or the advertising, solicitation, sale, or marketing of products or services.”

Proft was recently the subject of a Democratic Party complaint alleging he and his political action committee illegally coordinated with then-candidate for governor Darren Bailey. That complaint, the first such challenge to be considered by the Illinois State Board of Elections, was ultimately dismissed.

Read more: Elections board dismisses illegal campaign coordination complaint, declines to clarify law

Medical debt relief, other newly signed laws 

Pritzker has signed more than 50 bills this week, including a pair aimed at reducing the harmful effects of medical debt.

One measure establishes a program first outlined in the governor’s annual budget address to spend $10 million of state funds to purchase Illinoisans’ delinquent medical debt. The governor’s office said the program will forgive approximately $1 billion in personally held debt.

Medical debt holders in Illinois are eligible for the program if they have a household income less than four times the federal poverty limit or have medical debt greater than five percent of their total household income. The program will be administered by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which must launch the program by Jan. 1, 2025.

Department staff will then work with hospitals and other medical providers to identify eligible residents and, after wiping their debt, notify them that their debt has been erased.

Another measure prohibits credit reporting companies from factoring in negative information about medical debt in credit reports. This provision went into effect immediately when it was signed.

“These two pieces of legislation work to ensure that medical debt is not a lifetime sentence of poverty, and that Illinoisans who are struggling under current debts have an opportunity to get back on a strong financial path as they heal,” Pritzker said in a Tuesday afternoon news release.

The governor also signed bills this week that will:

  • Add the state’s Office of Pretrial Services, which already exists, into statute.
  • Require schools to put in place plans to handle cardiac emergencies like heart attacks.
  • Allow the Department of Transportation to start a program aimed at reducing noise pollution near highways. 
  • Require insurance companies to cover continuous glucose monitors, a medical device commonly used by those with diabetes, without cost sharing or a requirement for prior authorization. 
  • Require auto insurers to disclose how they determine a vehicle is a total loss during the claims process.
  • Lower the minimum shotgun gauge size for hunting wild turkeys from 20 gauge to .410 bore. 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.