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Voter behavior put to the test

New laws and extra referendums will impact voters in November. While various political camps scheme to benefit, voters should cast their ballots as they darn well please.

Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, July 28, 2014 8:27 a.m. CDT

Those who study biology eventually learn about the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior. Simply put, the law states that whatever carefully controlled behavioral experiment is devised by biologists, the animal will behave as it darned well pleases.

(To visualize the concept, think of a rat running through a maze differently than researchers predicted.)

We think there might be a corollary to the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior in the realm of political science.

It could be this: Whatever electoral experiments are devised by politicians, voters will behave as they darn well please on Election Day.

In 20 weeks, that corollary will be put to the test on Nov. 4.

At issue is how voter turnout will be affected by changes in election law and the various referendums put on the ballot by the Legislature and citizen petitioners.

The Legislature approved a bill last month that would allow voters to register on Election Day and cast ballots the same day. That is unheard of in Illinois, but if Gov. Pat Quinn signs the bill, it will happen.

The Legislature also approved several non-binding referendums. One asks voters whether the minimum wage should go up to $10 an hour. Another asks whether voters think millionaires should pay an extra tax.

A third question asks whether the law should require prescription drug coverage plans to include birth control.

Others deal with protections for crime victims, and protections against denying the right to vote based on race, gender, sexual orientation or income.

Two citizen petition initiatives to amend the Illinois Constitution may also appear on the ballot. One would reform the legislative redistricting process; the other would impose term limits on the Legislature and make other changes.

Same-day registration, referendums and initiatives have their defenders and critics. Depending on whom you listen to, the changes are the best thing since sliced bread or cynical attempts to lure voters of a particular political persuasion to the polls.

Will they actually "goose" voter turnout?

Politicians in power who tinker with election protocols have had mixed results. Barack Obama won the 2008 Illinois presidential primary after Democratic politicians moved it from mid-March to early February, which gave Obama a timely boost against Hillary Clinton.

But the law that allowed 17-year-olds to vote in this year's primary failed to boost voter turnout, which fell from 23 percent statewide in 2010 (the previous gubernatorial election) to 18 percent this year.

That reminds us of the corollary we proposed to the Harvard Law of Animal Behavior.

A carefully controlled political experiment is coming up this fall. Political "scientists" think they know what will happen on Nov. 4.

Amid the maze of candidates, issues and referendums, however, voters will likely behave as they darn well please. That might surprise the politicians, but it won't surprise us.

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