In less than two weeks, an additional 350,000 Illinois residents have requested mail-in ballots, pushing the total number to 1.45 million.
That’s an increase of nearly 32% since officials said late last month that they had already exceeded the 1.1 million mark of people seeking to vote by mail in the November election.
And 50,000 of those requests rolled in since Tuesday alone.
That means one in four COVID-19 wary Illinois voters could be choosing the mailbox over the ballot box.
“If we have 75 percent turnout — around 6 million votes — that would make up nearly 25 percent of the vote total,” Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said in a statement. “And it’s still early, with two more weeks before ballots even start going out.”
That could also mean a long election night — or more accurately days and nights — as the state tallies the ballots cast by Nov. 3, a process that can stretch for two weeks, or until Nov. 17.
“Voters need to know that the election night numbers could change, perhaps significantly, if hundreds of thousands of mail ballots arrive in the two weeks after the elections,” Dietrich said in his statement.
Illinois voters have a good track record for returning those ballots by mail.
Four years ago, a total of 5,666,118 Illinois voters cast ballots in the November election –about 371,000 of them by mail. In that 2016 presidential election year, 87% of those who requested mail-in ballots returned them.
Officials are taking steps to make sure the surge in voting by mail doesn’t slow down election results any longer than necessary. They are processing ballots as they arrive “so a steady flow of ballots into the election authority will allow for smooth work flow for the election judges handling them,” but no vote totals can be run or announced until the polls close, Dietrich said.
Mary Morrissey, the executive director of the Democratic Party of Illinois, said the increase in the number of requests to vote by mail is “a reflection of the depth of passion to see a change in Washington — to see a change in the White House.”
“Voters have been waiting since November of 2016 to cast their ballot, and … they are anxious to see if Donald Trump [will] be a one term president,” Morrissey said.
As for how the increase may affect election night, Morrissey said “we know that election night will not be like election nights of the past.”
“We’ve seen it in state after state who relied primarily on vote by mail, for instance California,” Morrissey said. “The results came in over a period of days, and we anticipate that the same thing is going to happen across the country.”
Sean Morrison, chairman of the Cook County Republican Party said he’s worried about election fraud because of “mass ballots being mailed out to every person that voted in the last three elections.
“Sending out ballots to every single person lends itself to the ability of fraud to occur,” Morrison said in a statement. “What about the ballots of those who have moved — who have passed away? We’ve seen several examples throughout the country as recently as the very last election cycle a few short months ago.”
The push to vote by mail — and the large applications local election agencies are receiving — stems from a temporary expansion of the state’s mail-in ballot program designed to ease concerns of voters leery of visiting crowded polling places during the pandemic.
Masked legislators passed the expansion in May, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed it into law in July.
President Donald Trump has said the expansion of voting by mail across the nation won’t be “anything less than substantially fraudulent.”
Dietrich said the same security measures that are in place for a voter receiving a ballot in person “is in place for those requesting and casting a vote-by-mail ballot.”
Voters must sign their mailed application, and voters who apply using an election authority’s online system are required to enter personally identifiable information that only they should know.
Once they receive a ballot, election judges will compare the signature on the envelope with the signature on record “just as an election judge does when a voter signs for a ballot at a polling place,” Dietrich said.
Voters can still change their minds without any fear of penalty, however.
Should they receive a vote-by-mail ballot and decide instead to vote in person, they can surrender their mail ballot at the polling place in exchange for a regular ballot.
The only other way for a person who applied to vote by mail to receive a ballot in person is by signing an affidavit stating that their ballot never arrived. If the person signs off, knowing that they received their mail ballot and have already mailed it back, they have committed a Class 3 felony, Dietrich said.
“Anyone who attempts to double vote by sending a mail ballot and then requesting a ballot at a polling place is committing a felony that is extremely easy to prove,” Dietrich said in a statement. “Every voter gets only one vote, and the vote that is recorded first will cancel any subsequent vote attempt.”