Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul on Thursday warned residents to be on alert for robocalls with false claims about voting by mail in the upcoming election, advising anyone with questions about voting by mail to contact election authorities.
Voters have reported receiving calls with an automated recording falsely claiming that voting by mail could result in their private information being given to third parties like "the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track people for mandatory vaccines, police departments and law enforcement in order to locate individuals who have outstanding warrants, and creditors to help find people who owe outstanding debt," Raoul said in a statement.
Raoul emphasized that those claims are false and urged anyone who receives such a call to disregard the message. He also encouraged anyone with questions about voting, whether by mail or in person, to contact the Illinois State Board of Elections.
His warning came one day after the State Board of Elections announced that more than 1.3 million people in Illinois had requested mail-in ballots.
If even half of the ballots already requested are completed and returned for the election on Nov. 3, it would shatter the state's record for mail-in voting.
That record was set in the 2018 midterm elections, election officials said, when 430,000 votes across the state were cast by mail, which was about 9.3% of all ballots cast.
The record number of applications to vote by mail in the upcoming election has been driven in large part by the coronavirus pandemic, with officials encouraging the practice as a way to minimize contact and potential exposure.
President Donald Trump has on several occasions discouraged people from voting by mail, claiming without evidence that it would lead to voter fraud. Experts have repeatedly said that claim is false - a statement Raoul echoed on Thursday.
“Many Illinois residents will opt to vote by mail as we all take precautions to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the spread of COVID-19," Raoul said in his statement on the fraudulent robocalls. "We have already seen efforts to discourage people from voting by mail, and it is likely that those efforts will intensify as the November election approaches."
“I am urging voters to be aware that Illinois law does not permit election authorities to share personal information, regardless of the voting method you choose," he continued. "If you receive a call, email or text trying to convince you otherwise, please report the contact to my office or the Illinois State Board of Elections.”
Raoul said voters in other states, including Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, have also reported receiving similar calls, and that his office was in contact with attorneys general in those states to monitor the problem.
“Voting by mail is as secure and confidential as in-person voting, and it's the safest method of voting for those concerned about COVID-19 exposure,” State Board of Elections Executive Director Steve Sandvoss said in a statement on the calls. “Voters should not fall prey to disinformation schemes like this one.”
Raoul encouraged voters to make sure their voter registration is current on the Illinois State Board of Elections' website, to update it if they have moved or have not yet registered to vote, and to check the status of their vote-by-mail application with local election authorities if they've already applied.
He also reminded voters not to give their ballot anyone they do not know - but instead to safely deliver it to election authorities via the U.S. Postal Service or a designated ballot drop box. Raoul also recommended contacting local election authorities to take advantage of early voting sites in the weeks ahead of the election.
Anyone who believes they have received a robocall like this or is the victim of any sort of fraud related to voting should call the Consumer Fraud Hotline at 1-800-386-5438 (Chicago), 1-800-243-0618 (Springfield) or 1-800-243-0607 (Carbondale), Raoul said.
Voters can also can contact the Illinois State Board of Elections online or by calling 217-782-4141 or 312-814-6465.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a massive expansion of voting by mail into law in June, requiring applications be sent to every voter who voted in any election since November 2018, plus voters who have registered for the first time or updated their registrations since the March primary election.
The Illinois State Board of Elections said Friday that under that new law, the state's 108 local election authorities collectively sent applications for mail-in ballots to a total of 6.4 million voters who had voted in the 2018 general election, the 2019 election or the 2020 primary.
The record number of applications already received is likely to only continue to grow, with nearly two months left until the application deadline on Oct. 29.
Though that's the final day to request a ballot, state election officials recommended applying earlier, preferably by Oct. 15, to allow for enough time for delivery of the ballot.
The application period opened in mid-June, with all registered voters eligible to vote by mail. No reason or excuse is needed in order to obtain a mail-in ballot.
The Illinois State Board of Elections is scheduled to certify general election ballots on Sept. 24, officials said, with ballots to be printed and mailed to voters beginning that day through Oct. 4.
Mailed ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received within 14 days after the election. In Chicago, voters can also hand deliver completed ballots into one of at least 50 drop boxes at early voting sites around the city. Several other election authorities across the Chicago area and the state have announced plans to place drop boxes in convenient areas for voters as well.
Anyone who is not registered to vote can do so online up to 16 days before the election, or in person at several locations like government offices and public libraries up to 27 days before the election. After that timeframe passes, voters will have to register in person using grace period registration and be prepared to cast their ballots at the same time.
More information on registering to vote, and the application to request a mail-in ballot, can be found here.