Mail-in ballots driving record returns as early voting opens in all 50 wards

The leap in vote-by-mail ballots could push overall turnout past 40%, which the city hasn’t seen in a municipal election in over a decade.

SHARE Mail-in ballots driving record returns as early voting opens in all 50 wards
Voters cast their ballots in the Feb. 28 municipal election Monday at the Lincoln Park Branch Library on the North Side. Monday was the first day of in-person early voting in Chicago’s 50 wards.

Voters cast their ballots in the Feb. 28 municipal election Monday at the Lincoln Park Branch Library on the North Side. Monday was the first day of in-person early voting in Chicago’s 50 wards.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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Voters choosing to mail in their ballots are driving record early returns in the city’s Feb. 28 municipal election.

The leap in vote-by-mail ballots could push overall turnout past 40%, which the city hasn’t seen in a municipal election in over a decade.

The Chicago Board of Elections announced the record early turnout Monday as early voting sites opened in all of the city’s 50 wards.

“We’re having a lot more of these [mail-in] ballots returned swifter than we’ve had in previous municipal elections,” spokesman Max Bever said. “What we can say for sure right now is that there’s a good number of Chicagoans who have made up their mind for this race.”

With around two weeks until election day, 37,890 vote-by-mail ballots have been returned, compared with 1,837 vote-by-mail ballots cast in the mayoral election in 2019, Bever said.

Add the nearly 4,000 early votes cast in-person as of Sunday night and turnout is blowing away the past two mayoral races.

A total of 41,845 ballots have been cast in this year’s election, compared with 2,452 ballots over the same period in 2019, and 2,117 ballots in 2015, Bever said.

Voters can choose any early voting site, regardless of where they live.

All early voting sites will remain open through the end of election day. They are open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and election day 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

A full list of early voting sites can be found at chicagoelections.gov/en/early-voting.html

Patricia Walsh, 71, of Lincoln Park, receives her “I Voted!” sticker after early voting in the Feb. 28 municipal election Monday at the Lincoln Park Branch Library on the North Side.

Patricia Walsh, 71, of Lincoln Park, receives her “I Voted!” sticker after early voting in the Feb. 28 municipal election Monday at the Lincoln Park Branch Library on the North Side.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Two downtown voting locations have been open since Jan. 26: the Loop Supersite, 191 N. Clark St., and the Election Board office at the 6th Floor of 69 W. Washington St.

Registered voters can still ask for a mail-in ballot online at: chicagoelections.gov/en/vote-by-mail.html. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Feb. 23.

Mail-in ballots can be left at secure drop boxes at all 50 ward early voting sites. So far, over 200,000 voters have asked for a mail-in ballot, Bever said. Around 120,000 voters have signed up for the permanent vote-by-mail program.

Because so many people are choosing to vote by mail, many ward races may not be decided until after election day and all mail ballots are counted, Bever said. That process could take two weeks, he said.

With nearly 300 candidates up for election, this municipal race has the most candidates on the ballot ever, Bever said. Many of those candidates are running in the new Police District Councils, one for each of the city’s 22 police districts. The top three vote-getters in each district will be elected for a four-year term.

The Election Board is also seeking around 1,500 additional election judges to make up for expected vacancies, Bever said. New judges make up to $230 for working election day, while returning judges make up to $255.

While voter registration online closed Sunday, you can still register to vote in person at any polling place up to and including election day. You’ll need two forms of ID, one showing your current address.

For more information, go to chicagoelections.gov.

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