Chicago voters set record for vote-by-mail applications with 4 months to go before election
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.”
A 1st Ward polling place in March.