What you need to know about voting in the Illinois primary

Who’s on the ballot? What should you bring to your polling place? Where is your polling place? We’ve got answers.

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Election Judge Chuck Buckman (middle) accepts an electronic voting key card from a voter as judges Melissa Pickett (left) and Frank Gorup wait for more voters at the Naperville Municipal Center on Tuesday morning, March 18, 2014. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media

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Complete coverage of the local and national primary and general election, including results, analysis and voter resources to keep Chicago voters informed.

The Illinois primary election is March 17. It will determine each party’s nominees. Most notably, this year it will divide the votes of the state’s 155 pledged delegates between the Democratic presidential candidates in a crowded race to the ballots in November.

Early voting will soon begin in Chicago, and campaigns are in their final stretch. Here’s what voters will need to know before they cast their ballots this March.

Q: Am I registered to vote?

If you’re not sure if you’re registered to vote, check your status at the Cook County Clerk’s Office website, where you’ll have to enter your full name and address. Not in Cook? Will County, DuPage County, Kane County, Lake County and McHenry County also have election sites that can help. If you’re from outside the Chicago area, check with your local county clerk.

The deadline to register online for the upcoming primaries is March 1 at 11:59 p.m. If you miss the deadline, you’ll still be able to register the day of the election or in-person up until the Monday before an election. However, you’ll need to bring two forms of ID and cast your ballot immediately after registering.

Some voters were automatically registered when they applied for or renewed an Illinois driver’s license. The automatic voter registration program, which passed the General Assembly unanimously in 2017, has had a rough rollout. After a late start, hundreds of self-identified non-citizens were registered.

Q: What identification do I need to bring to the polls?

No ID is needed if you’re already registered and show up to vote at the correct precinct, unless an election judge challenges your right to vote. In that case, or if you submitted a mail-in registration form that did not have an associated Illinois identification, driver’s license number or Social Security number, you’ll need to provide one form of ID.

You’ll need two forms of ID if you’re registering in-person after the March 1 deadline.

Acceptable forms of ID include:

  • Driver’s license or state ID card
  • Passport
  • School or work ID
  • Utility, medical or insurance bill
  • Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid card
  • Pay stub

Q: When does early voting start?

Early voting opens for Chicago residents Feb. 19 at the Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark St., which will be the only location for early voting until March 2. From then until March 16, Chicago will have 52 sites.

Between March 11-13, several Chicago universities will offer early voting sites:

  • Chicago State University, 9501 S. Martin Luther King Drive
  • UIC Student Center, 750 S. Halstead St.
  • Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave.
  • University of Chicago Reynolds Club, 5706 S. University Ave.

Consult local election authorities for sites outside of Chicago.

Election Guide - Full Guide

2020 Election Voting Guide

This article is part of our Illinois 2020 election voting guide. Click here to see more.

Q: Where can I cast my ballot?

Check the Clerk’s Office voter information site for polling locations for both early voting and Election Day.

You can also vote by mail – no excuse needed – by applying online. The Chicago Board of Elections strongly encourages filing applications before March to have enough time to receive and return a ballot with a postmark on or before March 17.

Q: Can I vote for either party?

Illinois has open primaries, so you’ll be able to vote in any party’s election. You’ll need to declare your affiliation at the polling place before being able to vote in a party’s primary, however.

Q: Can I take a “selfie” when I vote?

Think twice before taking that voting picture to share on social media; it’s a felony in Illinois to photograph your marked ballot.

Q: Who am I voting for?

This year, voters will nominate their party’s candidates for president of the United States, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate, the Illinois Supreme Court, State Senate, State House, Cook County State’s Attorney, Cook County Circuit Court Clerk, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Commissioner and the Cook County Board of Review.

Not all the races are contested in the primaries.

Election Guide - Full Guide

2020 Election Voting Guide

This article is part of our Illinois 2020 election voting guide. Click here to see more.

Some races to look out for:

  • The Democratic field for president has narrowed since the race started with over 20 candidates vying for the nomination. Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren remain as voters across the country decide who should face Donald Trump in November.
  • Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s reelection bid has been clouded by the Jussie Smollett saga. Also at issue are bail reform – which some have said has made Chicago more dangerous – and getting illegal guns off streets. Foxx has three Democratic challengers in the primary: Bill Conway, Bob Fioeretti and Donna More.
  • In the 3rd District for U.S. Congress, which includes the southwest suburbs and Bridgeport, incumbent Dan Lipinski faces three Democratic challengers: Marie Newman, Rush Darwish and Charles Hughes. Lipinski has been criticized for not standing with his party on key issues, including health care, DACA and women’s and LGBTQ rights. Republican candidates Mike Fricilone, Arthur Jones and Catherine O’Shea are also vying for their party’s nomination.

For more information on who’s running, read candidate questionnaires on the Chicago Sun-Times voting guide. You can also visit the election websites for Cook County, the City of Chicago, your county clerk or the state of Illinois.

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