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Can’t wait to find out who won? You may have to — record mail votes could mean results ‘may not be known’ for a while

With more than 8.3 million voters registered for the 2020 general election — which is, in itself, a record — state election officials estimated that 43% of registered voters already voted. The numbers are double those of the last presidential election.

Dozens wait in line to early vote at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood last month on the first day of in-person early voting in Chicago’s 50 wards.
Dozens wait in line to early vote at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood last month on the first day of in-person early voting in Chicago’s 50 wards.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

More than 3.6 million Illinoisans — or more than two out of five registered voters — have already cast their ballots for Tuesday’s election, but officials caution that some races —including the fate of the proposed graduated income tax amendment — “may not be known” for up to two weeks.

As of Monday, more than 1.83 million people voted early in-person, and another 1.76 million had already returned their ballots by mail, ahead of an election some are calling one of the most important in history, according to figures from the Illinois Board of Elections.

With more than 8.3 million voters registered for the 2020 general election — which is, in itself, a record — state election officials estimated that 43% of registered voters already voted.

The numbers are double those of the last presidential election.

The state’s last records were set in 2016, when 1.8 million people voted ahead of Election Day — 370,740 by mail and a little over 1.5 million early and in-person.

This year, 2.35 million mail ballots had been sent to Illinois voters, meaning some 587,000 could still be returned. As long as they are postmarked no later than Tuesday and arrive within two weeks of Election Day, they will be counted and added to the official count.

Melvina Lee, center, 56, of Bronzeville, waits in line for more than three hours to early vote in the General Election at the Dr. Martin Luther King Center Service Center in the Bronzeville neighborhood last month.
Melvina Lee, center, 56, of Bronzeville, waits in line for more than three hours to early vote in the General Election at the Dr. Martin Luther King Center Service Center in the Bronzeville neighborhood last month.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

“As mail ballots arrive in the days after Nov. 3, it is likely that close races may see leads change as results are reported,” according to the Illinois Board of Elections. “From 1976-2016, turnout in presidential elections in Illinois has averaged 73%. If statewide turnout for this election matches 2016’s 70.56%, 5.87 million votes will be cast.”

The city has also “shattered records” for its early voting, said Marisel Hernandez, chairwoman of the city’s Board of Election Commissioners.

As of Sunday evening, 336,450 city residents have cast ballots in person since Oct. 1 and another 401,605 have voted by mail, according to figures released by the city’s Board of Elections.

The previous high was in the 2016 presidential election, with 94,000 mail ballots cast and over 325,000 early voters. By her 10 a.m. Monday news conference, Hernandez said the number of early voters had shot up to 354,000 people.

An early voter drops a mail-in ballot in the secured drop box at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood last month.
An early voter drops a mail-in ballot in the secured drop box at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood last month.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Later Monday morning, the city reported 402,762 had returned their vote by mail ballot and 337,138 residents voted early, according to figures from the state’s election authority.

“Early turnout has been incredible, and we are so excited so many Chicagoans are exercising their right to vote,” Hernandez said in the online news conference.

“We expect to begin having results by 8 p.m. [at] the latest — we have historically had 90% of the results in by 10 p.m., and we’re hoping to do the same for this election,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez encouraged those who still have ballots to return them via a secure drop box at a polling location, rather than through the mail, either Monday or Tuesday.

Election workers prepare the United Center at 1901 W. Madison St. as an Election Day voting super site, Monday morning.
Election workers prepare the United Center at 1901 W. Madison St. as an Election Day voting super site, Monday morning.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Along with the drop boxes at early voting sites, there will be ballot-collection boxes at the United Center, Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field. Drop boxes will not be available at home precinct polling places on Election Day, Hernandez said.

“If you bring your vote-by-mail ballot to your home precinct polling place, you will need to surrender that ballot and vote a new ballot,” Hernandez said.

Polling places will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day

The city’s polling places are following the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which means those voting in person should expect “strict social distancing measures,” including keeping 6 feet of space between themselves and others. They will be urged to wear masks, but it is not required.

Hernandez also recommended that voters bring their own pens to fill out their ballots.