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Mailbox boosted ballot box for Chicago primary voters wary of coronavirus

Perhaps not surprisingly, the city numbers appear to have been boosted by mail-in ballots, after election officials pushed the option to ease voter concerns about becoming infected in crowded polling places.

A voter wearing a face masks votes at a polling supersite in the Loop
A voter wearing a face masks votes at a polling supersite in the Loop, Monday, March 16, 2020.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Despite fears that the coronavirus would keep Chicagoans from voting, mail-in ballots trickling in are inching the city’s primary turnout to nearly 35%.

That’s down sharply from the 53.52% city turnout in the 2016 presidential primary and the 52.70% in 2008, but above or comparable to the city’s showing in the remaining three presidential primaries this century — including 2012 when only 24.46% of voters cast ballots.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the city numbers appear to have been boosted by mail-in ballots, after election officials pushed the option to ease voter concerns about becoming infected in crowded polling places.

On Monday, the city’s turnout rose by nearly three percentage points, going from 32.62% a few days after the primary to nearly 35% as the city counted additional vote-by-mail ballots that were postmarked in time.

Winning candidates will soon be able to officially celebrate their victories as the city’s election board inches closer to finalizing the results of the March 17 primary.

“Our goal is to beat the April 7 deadline,” said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

That date is the deadline for municipal election authorities to issue their official election results.

Election officials wear gloves as residents early vote in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the Loop super site at 191 N. Clark St.
Amid fears of the coronavirus pandemic, election officials wear gloves as residents early vote in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the Loop super site at 191 N. Clark St., Monday afternoon, March 16, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

In unofficial results released Monday, many of the winners in various contests didn’t see their leads diminish or grow by sizable numbers.

Of the city’s 117,119 mail-in ballot applications, 91,706 ballots have been returned as of Monday morning, according to city records. Of that number, 8,437 were rejected for reasons like not being postmarked on or before March 17.

Remaining ballots that haven’t been returned yet fall into three main categories: some may never return or arrive too late to be considered; some will continue to arrive by March 31 and will continue to be added to the counts by state law as long as they were postmarked on or before March 17; and some will continue to arrive by March 31 but won’t be counted if they were postmarked or certified on or after March 18.

There are still about 3,000 provisional ballots that may or may not count depending on their circumstances, Allen said.