July 29, 2020

Illinois expands vote by mail

On June 16, Governor JB Pritzker signed a law expanding the state’s vote-by-mail program for the general election in November.Election authorities must send vote-by-mail applications to every voter who participated in the 2018 general election, the 2019 municipal elections or the March 2020 primary election. That’s five million voters.

The measure was backed by the entire labor movement to make voting safe and accessible for every citizen despite restrictions imposed by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“In the face of a pandemic, massive economic upheaval, and renewed calls for racial justice, it’s more important than ever that Illinoisans can hold accountable a truly representative and transparent government—and that means ensuring all eligible residents can wield their right to vote in a way that doesn’t risk their personal health,” Pritzker said. 

“Sending vote-by-mail applications to residents who have participated in recent elections will allow more people to exercise that right from the safety of their own homes and help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.”

In the March primary election, a third of all votes came by mail because of voters wanting to avoid exposure to the coronavirus. Mailing the applications directly to eligible households will make the process both easier and safer.

The state is preparing for an even larger proportion in the November election. By mid-July, Chicago had already received a record 121,000 applications for mail-in ballots. 

“Ballots will be mailed out beginning September 24,” said Council 31 Intergovernmental Affairs Director Adrienne Alexander. “Don’t wait to get your voice heard. Voters can submit their application for a mail-in ballot today.”

Every voter counts

The day Pritzker signed the law, the Illinois State Board of Elections also agreed to help local governments pay for expanded vote-by-mail and added safety precautions.

The law also makes a number of other changes. Election Day is now an Illinois state holiday; closing schools and local and state government buildings will allow them to safely host polling places.

And expanded early voting hours will help prevent overcrowding at the polls on Election Day. In-person early voting gets underway on October 19 and will be easier than ever. Early voting sites are required to be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Local election authorities can also set aside special voting times for vulnerable populations and a curbside voting option will allow voters to cast a ballot without entering a polling place.

Registering to vote is streamlined so that when U.S. citizens who will be 18 years old by Nov. 3 register to vote online, they will be able to apply to vote by mail at the same time.

“Illinois should be proud of its efforts to expand vote-by-mail and other measures to ensure a high rate of participation in the November election,” Alexander said. “AFSCME members will help ensure voters take advantage of these new opportunities.”

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