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Pritzker says he plans to sign vote-by-mail expansion into law

Democrats supported the measure saying they worried about a second-wave of the coronavirus suppressing voter turnout for the 2020 election. Republicans contended the bill would make Illinois’ election more vulnerable to fraud.

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, gestures as he talks with state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, last May,
State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, gestures as he talks with state Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, front row, left, during debate on a bill dealing with vote by mail and other changes for the 2020 election, on the floor of the Illinois Senate during session at the Illinois State Capitol,
Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register

About 5 million registered voters will be sent applications to allow them to cast ballots by mail in the November election, under a measure the state Senate passed on Friday, and Gov. J.B. Pritzer said he plans to sign into law.

“Sending vote-by-mail applications to residents who have participated in recent elections will allow more people to vote from the safety of their own homes and help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” the governor said in a statement. “I look forward to signing this legislation when it reaches my desk and I encourage all eligible voters to exercise their right to vote at every available opportunity.”

The temporary expansion of the state’s mail-in balloting program passed the Senate along partisan lines, 37-19. It passed the House on Thursday with a similar split.

The bill, part of an omnibus elections package, will be paid for in part by federal COVID-19 relief funds. It would send applications to voters that they can then send to their local election authorities for a mail-in ballot that would only apply for the 2020 General Election.

Democrats supported the measure saying they worried about a second-wave of the coronavirus suppressing voter turnout for the 2020 election.

“This is simply a preparation and a planning to allow for the most voters and electors in the state of Illinois to participate in a very important aspect of their citizenry, which is the right to vote,” said state Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Lake Forrest, the lead sponsor of the Senate bill.

During a debate that lasted over an hour on Friday, Republican senators contended the bill would make Illinois’ election more vulnerable to voter fraud.

They call the measure unnecessary as the state already has a vote-by-mail system. They argue that anyone who wants a mail-in ballot, can already request one.

“What we don’t want in the state of Illinois is a piece of legislation, drafted very quickly that probably hasn’t been thoroughly reviewed, that passed in the middle of a crisis that opens the door for election fraud across the state of Illinois,” said state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville.

The elections omnibus measure would allow for a vote-by-mail application to be sent to any voter who previously voted-by-mail or who cast a ballot in 2018, 2019 or 2020. It would also allow any Illinois resident who filled out a change of address or a voter registration application between the March 17 primary and July 31 to be sent a vote-by-mail application.

Democrats argue that Republican opposition is rooted in their desire to suppress voters.

But Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, has argued that’s not the case, pointing his finger at Democrats for using a crisis to their advantage.

“I’m going to go as far as to say that this legislation is nothing more than a partisan power play to create an advantage in November’s election, and the congressional races and also the state legislative races,” Durkin said during House debate on Thursday.