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Voting Begins In Illinois, Mail-In Ballots Being Sent

A sign in the Sangamon County building directing voters.
Mary Hansen
NPR Illinois
A sign in the Sangamon County building directing voters.

Early voting for the November election began Thursday in most of Illinois. Local election authorities can also start sending out 1.8 million vote-by-mail ballots.

Even though voting begins 40 days before Election Day, most voters cast their ballots in the week leading up to that day, said Illinois State Board of Elections spokesperso Matt Dietrich.

“That can lead even to lines and some crowding in early voting locations. We're trying to avoid crowding; we're trying to avoid people having to wait in lines,” he said. “So if you're going to vote early, think about voting today, tomorrow, (or) in the first few weeks of October.”

Precautions against spread COVID-19 at polling sites include plexiglass barriers, markers to space out those waiting in line and masked election judges and poll workers. 

A list of early voting locations is on the state board of elections website. Voters in the city of Chicago can begin voting in October.

Dietrich said trends indicate vote-by-mail could account for 30% of all votes cast this election, toppling the previous record of 9%. Options for casting ballots by mail have expanded under legislation passed in the spring. Voters can mail the ballots back, take them to their local election offices – usually county office – or use new ballot drop boxes.

About half of the 108 election authorities are offering drop boxes, according to Dietrich. A list of their locations is on the State Board of Elections website.

Dietrich said the important thing is for voters to return them promptly.

“If there's any problem with your ballot, you want to make sure that the election authority has plenty of time to notify you and you have plenty of time to get a new vote by mail ballot to send it back in again,” he said.

Most issues – such as an improperly sealed ballot or questions about a signature – can be resolved, Dietrich said. 

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is October 29. Ballots that are mailed back must be postmarked by November 3 - Election Day - to be counted, but election authorities are encouraging people to send them in well before that. 

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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