Ballots by mail and booze to go? Besides budget, legislators to try to expand mail-in voting and allow carryout cocktails

The push for to-go adult beverages is designed to be temporary to help businesses during the pandemic.

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A to-go dinner and cocktail at SpeakEasy Bar & Grill in Newport, Rhode Island, earlier this month.

A to-go dinner and cocktail at SpeakEasy Bar & Grill in Newport, Rhode Island, earlier this month. Restaurants there are now permitted to sell alcoholic mixed drinks with to go orders.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Illinois legislators returned to Springfield on Wednesday facing a huge ticking clock to unravel and pass major legislation, including a spending plan and a COVID-19 relief package.

In just two more special session days, legislators must work to try to help the businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and get the state rolling on an appropriations plan.

But that’s not stopping a Democratic super majority from tucking in some of its most wanted elements, including an elections package that would vastly enhance vote-by-mail with funds from the federal government.

That measure is temporary, in light of the funding from the CoronavirusAid,Reliefand Economic Security Act, but it could be a framework for the future, since the elements have been discussed for years.

And a COVID-19 package that Democrats plan to file also includes “Cocktails for Hope,” which would help struggling bars get additional revenue during the pandemic. The proposed measure would change the Illinois Liquor Control Act to allow bars and restaurants to sell cocktails-to-go in “properly sealed containers.”

Men toast with their glasses as they drink alcohol in Karachi earlier this month. The proposal for to-go beverages in Illinois would require all drinks to be in sealed containers.

Men toast with their glasses as they drink alcohol in Karachi earlier this month. The proposal for to-go beverages in Illinois would require all drinks to be in sealed containers.

Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images

Those buying carry-out cocktails would have to be 21, and any alcohol transported in a vehicle would have to be placed in the trunk or in an area inaccessible to the driver. Bars and restaurants would have to adhere to strict requirements for sealing the cocktails.

The push for to-go adult beverages is designed to be temporary to help businesses during the pandemic. It is to be discussed in an Illinois House Executive Session on Thursday.

The elections omnibus measure would allow for a vote-by-mail application to be sent to any voter who previously voted-by-mail or who cast a ballot in 2018, 2019 or 2020. It would also allow any Illinois resident who filled out a change of address or a voter registration application between the March 17 primary and July 31 to be sent a vote-by-mail application.

The measure also includes language designed to provide more election judges, in light of the mess of the March primary in which many older election judges opted out for safety concerns.

Under the new measure, any U.S. citizen 16 or older would be able to serve as an election judge. High school students, community college and university students would be notified of their option to serve as election judges, and the Illinois Department of Employment Security would be required to notify the unemployed that they could serve as an election judge.

Election Day would also be considered a holiday.

On the first day of early voting, a South Shore man shows off his “I voted!” bracelet after casting his ballot for the March 17 Illinois primary.

On the first day of early voting, a South Shore man shows off his “I voted!” bracelet after casting his ballot for the March 17 Illinois primary.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times files

State Rep. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, who helped to craft the legislation along with the Illinois House Democratic Women’s Caucus, said the goal is to try to extend the measure well beyond the November election — if the state could find a way to pay for it.

“We’re making sure vote-by-mail is really a strong option for people, not just in November, but beyond,” Williams said. “We’re trying to make it just more user-friendly, more efficient, more secure and more accessible.”

The expansion will likely see Republican opposition and security concerns after the numerous problems with the state’s automatic voter registration system. But in addition to boosting vote-by-mail, the measure will also include increased hours for early voting and expanded locations on Election Day.

Also on the plate is legislation that would incur civil violations for businesses who don’t abide by Gov J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order extension. Republicans saw the creation of the legislation as a big win.

The legislation comes after Pritzker’s administration opted to scrap an emergency ruling that would have charged business owners with a misdemeanor should they not follow the order. The governor insisted it was designed to avoid yanking licenses, but businesses and GOP legislators were outraged.

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