Will 20% of Illinois ballots be cast by mail? State exceeds 1.1 million requests for vote-by-mail ballots

The actual total could be higher — 28 election authorities have not yet reported their totals. But even the preliminary numbers suggest wary Illinois voters are increasingly looking to the mailbox over the ballot box.

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Voters cast their ballots at the Galewood Community United Church in the 29th Ward in March. Over 1 million people have requested to vote by mail in the November general election.

Voters cast their ballots at the Galewood Community United Church in the 29th Ward in March. Over 1 million people have requested to vote by mail in the November general election.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Nearly one in five Illinois voters could wind up casting their ballots by mail in the November election, if all those who requested mail-in ballots follow through and use them.

Amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, more than 1.1 million Illinois voters have already requested vote-by-mail ballots, state election authorities said Friday.

The actual total could be higher — 28 election authorities have not yet reported their figures.

But even the preliminary numbers suggest wary Illinois voters are increasingly looking to the mailbox over the ballot box.

Four years, ago, a total of 5,666,118 Illinois voters cast ballots in the November election.

In that 2016 presidential election year, 428,000 Illinoisans requested vote-by-mail ballots, and 371,000, or 87% of those requested were returned and counted. The completed mail-in ballots represented 6.5% of the total ballots cast, the Illinois State Board of Elections said.

Assuming a similar turnout this year as in 2016, if all 1.1 million who requested mail-in ballots wind up using them, they would represent 19.4% of the total votes cast.

A poll worker prepares materials in a 1st Ward polling place in March.

A poll worker prepares materials in a 1st Ward polling place in March.

James Foster/For the Sun-Times file

This year’s applications already put Illinois on pace to “substantially exceed” the 2018 vote-by-mail record. In that mid-term electionyear, 430,000 votes were cast by mail, or 9.3% of all ballots.

“We are encouraged by the strong response to the ongoing vote-by-mail effort,” Steve Sandvoss, the state board of elections executive director, said in a statement. “Voting by mail provides a safe, secure and convenient voting option for those concerned about COVID-19. It also will help ease congestion at in-person polling places during early voting and on Election Day.”

The push to vote by mail — and the large applications municipal election agencies are receiving — stems from a temporary expansion of the state’s mail-in ballot program that masked legislators passed in May, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law last month.

House Speaker Michael Madigan listens to debate during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield in May.

House Speaker Michael Madigan listens to debate during a session of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield in May.

Pool photo by Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register

That expansion is part of a nationwide push to get voters to cast their ballot by mail in November — a move that that President Donald Trump has said won’t be “anything less than substantially fraudulent.”

“Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed. The Governor of California is sending Ballots to millions of people, anyone…..,” Trump said in a May tweet.

Election authorities have said they’re doing everything they can to protect the mail-in-ballot system from being tampered with.

For voters who do choose to cast their ballots in person, the Illinois Department of Public Health on Friday issued guidelines designed to protect their health and safety.

Masks are not required to vote in person, but public health officials are urging poll workers to try to separate those who do wear face coverings from “noncompliant voters.”

“Voting is a right and a privilege,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the director of the state’s public health department, said in a statement announcing the new guidelines.“While the safest way to cast a ballot this year is voting by mail, we are and will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure that Illinoisans can exercise their right to vote in person, in the safest possible environments during this COVID-19 pandemic.”

The guidelines say noncompliant voters — or anyone who “either refuses or for other reasons does not wear a face covering” in a polling location — cannot be prevented from casting a ballot for refusing to wear a mask.

But officials “should take every reasonable action to separate noncompliant voters from those wearing face coverings,” the guidelines recommend.

All local election authorities will be required to develop written COVID-19 prevention plans for all polling sites within their jurisdiction, according to the guidelines.Plans are to contain specific COVID-19 safety and training instructions along with the names of individuals responsible for implementation of the plan.

Election authorities are also being urged to relocate polls that were to be at senior living and long-term care facilities to protect residents.

Earlier this summer, Marisel Hernandez, the chair of the Chicago Board of Elections, explained the city’s process of trying to ensure election security for mail-in and in-person voting.

Hernandez wrote in the Sun-Times that the board’s website will let voters “track the status of their ballots” through the mail as well as through the processing period once the mailed ballot is returned to the board of elections among other measures that provide “critical protections.”

“There is funding for personal protective equipment. There will be longer Early Voting schedules — both number of days and more weeknight hours — which will help both our in-person voters and those using our Secured Drop Boxes,” Hernandez said in her June letter to the Sun-Times.

“Significantly, declaring Nov. 3 a state holiday will mean more large rooms in government facilities will be available to be Election Day polling places. Taken together, these changes are designed to ensure that all of our voters may participate in the November [election] while also protecting their health.”

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