Let the hard work begin now for a full and fair election this fall

Filing dates for candidates in Illinois have been pushed back because it’s awfully hard to collect petition signatures during a pandemic. But this means a mad dash at the end.

SHARE Let the hard work begin now for a full and fair election this fall
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We favor a statewide vote-by-mail election this fall. It offers the best chance at a fair and full election at time when COVID-19 could be on the rebound.

John Froschauer/AP

If Illinois hopes to avoid an election fiasco on Nov. 3, the time to start scrambling is now.

Filing dates for candidates have been pushed back because it’s awfully hard to collect petition signatures during the coronavirus pandemic. Legal objections to those signatures, in turn, will be filed later, possibly right up against the time election officials must send out mail-in ballots.

There is talk in the Legislature, as well, of sending a mail-in ballot to every registered voter in the state, given that so many voters might be skittish about walking into polling places.

We’re all for this. But that would add considerably to the pre-election workload of state and local election officials. And, in any event, massive numbers of voters are sure to request mail-in ballots, which by law are supposed to start going out on Sept. 24.

A kind of domino effect is at work here.

In a recent ruling, Chief U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer moved the filing date for independent and new party candidates from June 22 to Aug. 7. Because of the pandemic, the court also ruled that those candidates will need to file only 10 percent of the normal number of nominating signatures. Signatures may be photocopied or signed electronically with a finger or a computer mouse or stylus.

In addition, the Libertarian and Green parties will be allowed to field candidates without any signatures in contests for which they turned in enough signatures in either the 2016 or 2018 general elections.

But moving the filing deadline to Aug. 7 virtually ensures a “mad scramble” — in the words of one election official — to hold hearings on petition objections and the potential court proceedings that might follow.

The courts might be putting candidates back on the ballot or taking them off even after election authorities have started mailing out ballots.

In Chicago alone, election officials expect a scale-up in mail-in ballots from 100,757 in the 2016 presidential election to 800,000 — or even a million — this fall. Chicago’s ballot has to be printed with 2,069 variations.

Moreover, nobody knows if the coronavirus will limit the number of postal workers available to deliver the ballots on time or the number of people needed to process the ballots.

We favor a statewide vote-by-mail election this fall. It offers Illinois the best chance at a fair and full election at time when the coronavirus could — as many epidemiologists predict — be on the rebound.

Let the scramble begin.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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