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Illinois House Passes Bill To Extend Ballot Drop Boxes For Future Elections

Mary Hansen
NPR Illinois

Democratic state lawmakers are pushing to make permanent many of the voting options Illinois piloted for the 2020 General Election last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Illinois House last week approved extending the use of ballot drop boxes and curbside voting indefinitely. However, critics said the proposal could lead to election security issues.

State Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) is the chief sponsor of HB 1871 . Stuart said extending these options will encourage voter participation during a time when other states are disenfranchising voters.

“It allows election authorities to continue to use secure, locked, tamper-proof drop boxes subject to rules set by the state board like daily ballot collection,” Stuart said. “It does not make them mandatory. The use of such is still up to the discretion of the local election authorities.”

Meanwhile, Republicans warned the proposal does not thoroughly standardize election security standards and practices statewide, and that the bill would imporley use federal funds.

“People's concerns about election security are real,” State Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said during House floor debate last week. “We need to make sure that everyone has the best access and the right to vote, but we must also make sure that our elections are totally secure.”

Republicans pointed out the proposal does not specify size requirements for drop boxes and posited particularly small drop boxes could be subject to theft. Additionally, Republicans voiced concern with the level of discretion local election authorities would be granted in determining curbside voter eligibility and ballot collection site placements.

State Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria) said such discretion could result in an election official designating a drop box site right outside Democratic or Republican campaign headquarters.

“I have very serious concerns about the locations that are appropriate and the monitoring and security of these drop boxes,” Spain said.

Republicans also took issue with federal Help America Vote Act funds being allocated to maintain ballot collection sites.

“HAVA funds can't be used to purchase new drop boxes as those funds are only for election security,” Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said. “The drop boxes used in the 2020 General Election were purchased using CARES Act funding in response to the pandemic and corresponding increase in mail voting.”

Dietrich said HAVA funds can only be used in elections in which federal candidates are on the ballot.

“What HB 1871 would do is allow jurisdictions that already purchased drop boxes for the 2020 General Election to continue using them in future elections,” Dietrich said.

Rep. Stuart said although there may be aspects of alternative voting options that warrant further analysis, the pandemic is still an issue and voters continue to need safe options to practice their civic duty.

“I look forward to working with people across the aisle to come up with the regulations that we are going to put on those drop boxes,” Stuart said. “But until we get that work done, we should allow our election authorities, if they so choose, the availability to have them for the voters.”

If the bill gets Senate approval and is signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker, Stuart said local election authorities could continue using ballot drop boxes and curbside voting for the April 6 municipal election and beyond.

Derek Cantù is NPR Illinois' graduate student Public Affairs Reporting intern for the spring 2021 legislative session.
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