WILL 20% OF ILLI­NOIS BAL­LOTS BE CAST BY MAIL? STATE EX­CEEDS 1.1 MIL­LION RE­QUESTS FOR VOTE-BY-MAIL BAL­LOTS

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY RACHEL HIN­TON, PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER rhin­ton@sun­times.com | @rrhin­ton

Nearly one in five Illi­nois vot­ers could wind up cast­ing their bal­lots by mail in the Novem­ber elec­tion, if all those who re­quested mail-in bal­lots fol­low through and use them.

Amid con­cerns about the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, more than 1.1 mil­lion Illi­nois vot­ers have al­ready re­quested vote-by-mail bal­lots, state elec­tion au­thor­i­ties said Fri­day.

The ac­tual to­tal could be higher — 28 elec­tion au­thor­i­ties have not yet re­ported their fig­ures.

But even the pre­lim­i­nary num­bers sug­gest wary Illi­nois vot­ers are in­creas­ingly look­ing to the mail­box over the bal­lot box.

Four years ago, a to­tal of 5,666,118 Illi­nois vot­ers cast bal­lots in the Novem­ber elec­tion.

In that 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year, 428,000 Illi­noisans re­quested vote-by-mail bal­lots, and 371,000, or 87% of those re­quested were re­turned and counted. The com­pleted mail-in bal­lots rep­re­sented 6.5% of the to­tal bal­lots cast, the Illi­nois State Board of Elections said.

As­sum­ing a sim­i­lar turnout this year as in 2016, if all 1.1 mil­lion who re­quested mail-in bal­lots wind up us­ing them, they would rep­re­sent 19.4% of the to­tal votes cast.

This year’s ap­pli­ca­tions al­ready put Illi­nois on pace to “sub­stan­tially ex­ceed” the 2018 vote-by-mail record. In that mid-term elec­tion year, 430,000 votes were cast by mail, or 9.3% of all bal­lots.

“We are en­cour­aged by the strong re­sponse to the on­go­ing vote-by-mail ef­fort,” Steve Sand­voss, the state board of elections ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor, said in a state­ment. “Vot­ing by mail pro­vides a safe, se­cure and con­ve­nient vot­ing op­tion for those con­cerned about COVID-19. It also will help ease con­ges­tion at in-per­son polling places dur­ing early vot­ing and on Elec­tion Day.”

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

That ex­pan­sion is part of a na­tion­wide push to get vot­ers to cast their bal­lot by mail in Novem­ber — a move that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said won’t 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…..,” Trump said in a May tweet.

Elec­tion au­thor­i­ties have said they’re do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to pro­tect the mail-in-bal­lot sys­tem from be­ing tam­pered with.

For vot­ers who do choose to cast their bal­lots in per­son, the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Public Health on Fri­day is­sued guide­lines de­signed to pro­tect their health and safety.

Masks are not re­quired to vote in per­son, but public health of­fi­cials are urg­ing poll work­ers to try to sep­a­rate those who do wear face cov­er­ings from “non­com­pli­ant vot­ers.”

“Vot­ing is a right and a priv­i­lege,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the direc­tor of the state’s public health depart­ment, said in a state­ment an­nounc­ing the new guide­lines. “While the safest way to cast a bal­lot this year is vot­ing by mail, we are and will con­tinue to take the nec­es­sary steps to en­sure that Illi­noisans can ex­er­cise their right to vote in per­son, in the safest pos­si­ble en­vi­ron­ments dur­ing this COVID-19 pan­demic.”

The guide­lines say non­com­pli­ant vot­ers — or any­one who “either re­fuses or for other rea­sons does not wear a face cov­er­ing” in a polling lo­ca­tion — can­not be pre­vented from cast­ing a bal­lot for re­fus­ing to wear a mask.

But of­fi­cials “should take ev­ery rea­son­able ac­tion to sep­a­rate non­com­pli­ant vot­ers from those wear­ing face cov­er­ings,” the guide­lines rec­om­mend.

All lo­cal elec­tion au­thor­i­ties will be re­quired to de­velop writ­ten COVID-19 preven­tion plans for all polling sites within their ju­ris­dic­tion, ac­cord­ing to the guide­lines. Plans are to con­tain spe­cific COVID-19 safety and train­ing in­struc­tions along with the names of in­di­vid­u­als re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­men­ta­tion of the plan.

Elec­tion au­thor­i­ties are also be­ing urged to re­lo­cate polls that were to be at se­nior liv­ing and long-term care fa­cil­i­ties to pro­tect res­i­dents.

TYLER LARIVIERE/SUN-TIMES FILE

Vot­ers cast their bal­lots at the Gale­wood Com­mu­nity United Church in the 29th Ward in March. Over 1 mil­lion peo­ple have re­quested to vote by mail in the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion.

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