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Confusion delivered in mail-in voting letters from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White

The problem is that the letter was received by several hundred thousand voters around the state who had already applied for a mail ballot, officials said. 

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White participates in an Illinois delegation event during the Democratic National Convention in August.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White participates in an Illinois delegation event during the Democratic National Convention last month via webinar.
Screen image.

A letter from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White intended to remind voters of their opportunity to vote by mail has sown confusion among thousands who had already done so.

The reminder letters from White’s office to 5.4 million voters began arriving in the mail late last week, and recipients immediately began lighting up the phone lines and email inboxes of local election authorities.

Most of them were concerned about this paragraph:

“Correspondence was previously sent to you by your local election authority with information on how to apply for a vote by mail ballot. Your local election authority had indicated that you have not yet applied for a ballot; however you still have time to submit an application for a vote by mail ballot.”

The problem is that the letter was received by several hundred thousand voters around the state who had already applied for a mail ballot, officials said.

White’s office pointed blame at the State Board of Elections, which compiled the mailing list. The election board blamed its list on the two-week time lag between when it received information from local officials about who had not applied and when the letters went out.

State election board spokesman Matt Dietrich also suggested the letter could have been written more clearly with a disclaimer to explain that anyone who had applied in recent weeks could disregard the notice.

A new state law expanding the use of mail voting requires the secretary of state to send the reminder letters. A second letter is supposed to be sent on Oct. 15.

A spokesman for White’s office said the October letter will be amended to try to head off further confusion.

Anyone who does not wish to vote by mail can disregard the reminder letters, Dietrich said.

More than 1.7 million Illinois voters have requested vote-by-mail ballots so far, he said.

James Nally, legal counsel to the Cook County Clerk’s election office, said mail ballots for the November 3 election will start going in the mail Thursday.

Anyone wishing to vote by mail is advised to apply online immediately and return their ballot as soon as possible. Mail ballots must be postmarked — or returned to a designated dropbox — by Nov. 3 to be counted.