Gov. JB Pritzker signs bill allowing students to vote during school days

Devon Greene, editor-in-chief

Students in Illinois will now have the ability to vote during school days.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker signed a legislation that will allow students from across the state of Illinois to be excused from school for two hours to vote in a primary, general, special or any election. The bill also includes any election in a primary, general, special or any election in Illinois at which propositions are submitted to a popular vote.

The bill states that any student has the right to be excused to vote on a day which early voting is offered during hours designated by the school. Students will not be penalized for missing any classes during their scheduled two hours when going to vote.

Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly gives credit to two high schools from Calumet City, Ill. in the pursuit of this bill. The General Assembly and Rep. Nick Smith say that Thornton Fractional North High School and Thornton Fractional South High School brought the idea to Senator Elgie Sims who then worked with Smith and the General Assembly to make the idea come to fruition.

“The advocacy of the students in my district convinced me I had to sponsor this legislation, and their passion helped get it over the finish line,” Sen. Sims said. “Signing this plan into law broke down a barrier that has long made it difficult for them and other students throughout the state to vote. Hopefully, this new law will excite Illinois students and encourage them to take their civic duty as voters seriously.”

Pritzker commended the students who pushed for the law on Wednesday.

“With this new law, our voting-eligible young people will have the freedom to fit voting into their school day without fear of repercussion for engaging in the very civic education we should all be proud to encourage,” Gov. Pritzker said. “The young people who advocated for this legislation recognized how important it is not only to vote, but to make the act of voting as accessible for all who can vote as possible.”

According to the United States Census Bureau, citizens in the age from 18 to 29 have had the lowest rates of voter turnout since the 1980s. In the 2016 election, only 46.1 percent showed up to vote in the presidential election which was the highest since 2008 when 51.1 took to the polls to vote in the race. The participation from the 18-29 year-old age group in 2008 was the second highest in 16 years when 52.2 percent exercised their voting rights in 1992. However, those rates still pale in comparison to the turnout rates of the age groups 30-44, 45-64 and 65 and older who have never dropped below 50 percent.

Rep. Smith hopes that this bill will encourage students to exercise their voting rights in order for their values to be represented at the polls come election time.

“Voting is one of the most important civic responsibilities we will hold in our lifetime,” Smith said. “It’s important that we work to encourage young people to vote by removing barriers that could restrict them from making it to the polls. Providing an opportunity to briefly leave school during an Election Day grants our young voters a chance to have their voice heard when they may not be able to make it to the polling booth otherwise.”

The new legislation, Senate Bill 1970, will take effect on June 1.