POSTAGE STAM­PEDE?

Chicago vot­ers set record for vote-by-mail ap­pli­ca­tions with 4 months to go be­fore elec­tion

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY RACHEL HIN­TON, STAFF RE­PORTER rhin­ton@sun­times.com | @rrhin­ton Con­tribut­ing: Neal Ear­ley in Spring­field

Nearly 119,000 Chicagoans have ap­plied to mail in their bal­lots in Novem­ber, set­ting a city record four months ahead of the gen­eral elec­tion amid a na­tional de­bate over the vote-by-mail sys­tem that pits ar­gu­ments for safety dur­ing the pan­demic against warn­ings of elec­toral fraud.

The 118,836 Chicago vot­ers who have al­ready ap­plied for mailin bal­lots rep­re­sent roughly the equiv­a­lent of 11% of the num­ber of Chicagoans who voted in the pres­i­den­tial con­test four years ago.

And elec­tion au­thor­i­ties ex­pect the num­ber of vot­ers plan­ning to mail it in to keep grow­ing.

“From here on, it’s just a mat­ter of see­ing how soon Chicago vot­ers dou­ble, triple and likely quin­tu­ple the records set in March 2020, and prior to that, Novem­ber 1944,” Lance Gough, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the city’s elec­toral au­thor­ity, said in a state­ment.

Matt Di­et­rich, the spokesman for the state’s board of elec­tions, said in 2018 “9.1% of the vote in the pri­mary was by mail and 9.3% of the 2018 gen­eral elec­tion vote was by mail, so it un­doubt­edly will be more than that.”

In the March pri­mary, 117,813 Chicagoans ap­plied for mail-in bal­lots, just as the pan­demic was tak­ing hold in Illi­nois. That bested the 1944 record, which saw 116,117 Chicagoans ap­ply to vote by mail.

Mail­ings with voter cards, voteby-mail ap­pli­ca­tions and other in­for­ma­tion on the city’s sys­tem will be sent out to vot­ers from July 16 to July 28, Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elec­tion Com­mis­sion­ers, said in an email.

The push to vote by mail — and the large num­ber of ap­pli­ca­tions the city is re­ceiv­ing — stems from a tem­po­rary ex­pan­sion of the state’s mail-in bal­lot pro­gram that leg­is­la­tors passed in May and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law last month.

The bill, part of an om­nibus elec­tions pack­age, will be paid for in part by fed­eral COVID-19 re­lief funds. An ap­pli­ca­tion to vote by mail will be sent to any voter who pre­vi­ously voted by mail or who cast a bal­lot in 2018, 2019 or 2020.

It also would al­low any Illi­nois res­i­dent who filled out a changeof-ad­dress or a voter regis­tra­tion ap­pli­ca­tion be­tween the March 17 pri­mary and July 31 to be sent a vote-by-mail ap­pli­ca­tion.

Repub­li­cans in Illi­nois — and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump — con­tend vot­ing by mail could in­crease chances for voter fraud.

Dur­ing a de­bate of the bill in May, Repub­li­can se­na­tors ar­gued it would make Illi­nois’ elec­tion more vul­ner­a­ble to voter fraud and called it un­nec­es­sary as the state al­ready has a vote-by-mail sys­tem. They ar­gued that any­one who wants a mail-in bal­lot can al­ready re­quest one.

“What we don’t want in the state of Illi­nois is a piece of leg­is­la­tion, drafted very quickly that prob­a­bly hasn’t been thor­oughly re­viewed, that passed in the mid­dle of a cri­sis that opens the door for elec­tion fraud across the state of Illi­nois,” state Sen. Ja­son Plum­mer, R-Ed­wardsville, said at the time.

Trump has taken to Twit­ter to de­nounce mail-in, or ab­sen­tee, bal­lots. In a tweet in May, the pres­i­dent wrote “There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Bal­lots will be any­thing less than sub­stan­tially fraud­u­lent. Mail boxes will be robbed, bal­lots will be forged & even il­le­gally printed out & fraud­u­lently signed. The Gover­nor of Cal­i­for­nia is send­ing Bal­lots to mil­lions of peo­ple, any­one ..... ”

Marisel Her­nan­dez, the chair of the Chicago Board of Elec­tions, ex­plained the city’s process of try­ing to en­sure elec­tion se­cu­rity, writ­ing in the Sun-Times that the board’s web­site will let vot­ers “track the sta­tus of their bal­lots” through the mail as well as through the pro­cess­ing pe­riod once the mailed bal­lot is re­turned to the board of elec­tions among other mea­sures that pro­vide “crit­i­cal pro­tec­tions.”

“There is fund­ing for per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment. There will be longer Early Vot­ing sched­ules — both num­ber of days and more week­night hours — which will help both our in-per­son vot­ers and those us­ing our Se­cured Drop Boxes,” Her­nan­dez said in her June let­ter to the Sun-Times.

“Sig­nif­i­cantly, declar­ing Nov. 3 a state hol­i­day will mean more large rooms in gov­ern­ment fa­cil­i­ties will be avail­able to be Elec­tion Day polling places. Taken to­gether, th­ese changes are de­signed to en­sure that all of our vot­ers may par­tic­i­pate in Novem­ber while also pro­tect­ing their health.”

SUN-TIMES FILES

A 1st Ward polling place in March.

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