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Q&A: Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias says 'modernization' is key

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulius visits with employees and managers at a Peoria DMV during a visit on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
Collin Schopp
Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias visits with employees and managers at a Peoria DMV during a visit on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.

Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias says his priority since taking office in January has been “modernizing” the Secretary of State’s Office. WCBU spoke with Giannoulias during a visit to a Peoria DMV to learn more about what modernization looks like and how Illinois residents could benefit.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

I was curious about your stance on House Bill 0867. It’s a “one license plate” bill, it’s something that’s been suggested a few times in the past. Would you support a single license plate bill in Illinois or not?

Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias: I'm going to have to take a look at it. But right now, we do not support it.

There’s been an ongoing conversation about the possibility of digital driver's licenses, not just in Illinois, but across the country. Is that a measure that your office would support? And how do you begin overcoming the hump of technology access when it comes to a digital driver’s license?

Giannoulias: Well, I think more broadly, we have to modernize the Secretary of State's office. That's why I've been traveling across the state visiting our facilities. We have to bring new technology and modernization into every element of the Secretary of State's office. We want to eliminate the time tax that people are paying just to access government services. So one of the components of that, eventually will be digital IDs, digital driver's license. In the meantime, we announced our skip the line program, people can schedule an appointment, we're going to have an app, we're looking at electronic car titles. So modernization will be at the forefront of everything we do. And I'm excited about that.

So is the intention that a digital ID or digital driver’s license would replace a physical one? Or is the idea that it would be an alternative, another option?

Giannoulias: At first, it'll be an alternative. And I think, you know, again, ultimately, other states are doing it. Ultimately, it'll probably be where everyone in the country goes. You know, no one really expects Illinois to be the first [to] a lot of this new technology, but we can't afford to be the last either.

How are you aiming to modernize the DMV experience?

Giannoulias: Again, a lot of it centers around our skip the line program, the ability to schedule an appointment. We don't want people waiting in line, you know, we don't want people taking a long time. So modernization, we're gonna have a new website. Digital driver's license, digital IDs, will change the way we conduct business. This is a customer service business. And everything we do is going to be based around making that customer experience a little smoother.

The Secretary of State’s Office handles some other things, though I guess it’s most well known for the DMV, does modernization touch any of the other responsibilities of the office?

Giannoulias: Yeah, it touches it all, you know. Business services, for example, if someone wants to start a business in Illinois, they come through our office, we want to make that whole process a lot more efficient. Our securities division, our libraries, you know, we're the state's chief librarian. We want to end that, narrow that digital divide by more online resources and our licensed to read programs. So there's a lot, every single department will be impacted in a positive way with new technology.

You mentioned the libraries are one thing the Secretary of State office is responsible for. At a time when there's a lot of discussion in states across the country about what books should or shouldn't be in a library, do Illinoisans need to have any concern about those sorts of conversations here?

Giannoulias: You're going to be hearing more from us on the subject soon. Fundamentally, you know, I think the banning of books is dangerous. I think it goes against the very foundation of what education should be about, which is teaching young boys and girls to think for themselves. So I'm, hopefully you know, it doesn't flare up a worry, you're going to be hearing more from us on that.

You bill yourself as an expert at kind of reaching across the aisle. The best example I can think of is [your electoral opponent, Republican candidate] Dan Brady, being on your transition team. How do you plan on continuing to express that willingness to work across the aisle moving forward?
Giannoulias: Well, you know, again, the Secretary of State's office is a customer service office. I've always believed that the government should be about public service, helping others. I've always worked well with folks, whether they're Democrats or Republicans. I don't care if someone’s smart and they have good ideas, let's work together and help people. So maybe that's a naïve way of thinking. But from my, from what, you know, when I talked to voters, that's what they want to see more of, not less of.

What are some of your other main priorities in these early days of your tenure?

Giannoulias: So again, modernization is going to be key. Ethics and transparency, rebuilding trust in government. On my first day in office, I signed an executive ethics order. We have to rebuild that trust in government, again, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, we want to increase transparency. Lobbyist registration reports, everything within our office to help increase transparency will be, I think, positive. We're also as I mentioned, our libraries will be a huge focus of what we do, and just in general, eliminating the time tax that people pay for government services.

Corrected: March 2, 2023 at 6:03 PM CST
The spelling of Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias' surname has been corrected.
Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.