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Vote-By-Mail Applications Arriving To Illinoisans

Voting signs at Sangamon County building
Voting signs at Sangamon County building

Millions of voters across Illinois are getting vote-by-mail applications.

A new law signed by the governor this summer directs all election authorities in the state to send out the applications by August 1. 

The mailings go to all those who cast ballots in the most recent three elections, including the roughly 4.6 million Illinoisans who voted in the 2018 mid-term elections, and those who registered between March 18 and July 31, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Online applications are also available, as required by the new law.

Voters who sign and send back the applications before October 1 can expect a ballot in the mail by October 5. After that, election officials will send a ballot within two days of getting an application. 

The deadline to sumbit a vote-by-mail application is October 29, ahead of the November 3 Election Day. Ballots postmarked by Election Day will be counted. 

Illinoisans have had the option to vote by mail without an absentee excuse for a decade.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democratic lawmakers pushed the package to encourage the option as a safe way to vote amid the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, some Republicans fought the efforts, citing the costs and concerns about fraud.

But advocacy groups, like CHANGE Illinois – a nonpartisan organization that advocates for ethics reform, argue fraud is rare.

“The law really just changed how the local election authorities are raising awareness about this option to voters,” said Ryan Tolley, policy director at CHANGE Illinois. “So I really don't see the new changes really opening or making our system more susceptible to voter fraud.”

Don Gray, the Sangamon County Clerk who oversees elections, said voting by mail is a reliable option, but one of a few alternatives.

“It's within the parameters of how we've always operated vote by mail, so there should be good comfort to that,” Gray said. “But there will be an Election Day; there will be early voting. We are taking steps to provide for a safe and secure environment that's healthy for all to cast ballots.”

Sangamon County is sending around 92,000 applications. Gray said he expects anywhere from 30% to 50% of voters to take advantage of the option, when usually the county sees around 8%. But he said it’s hard to tell.

“Those who know now that this is their form of voting, that they want cast their ballots through the mail - make that request now so that we can properly prepare,” Gray said.

It will require more printing, postage, staff and support, including more election judges, to properly process the ballots, Gray said. He estimated the operation will cost more than $250,000 for Sangamon County.

Local election authorities are also now required to appoint a bipartisan panel of three election judges to verify mail-in ballots, a change from one judge.

State and federal funds are available to cover costs for local election authorities, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections, including $13.9 million in CARES Act money, $2.78 million in state matching fund and another $6 million lawmakers set aside to pay for postage for mail-in ballots.

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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