Early voting begins in some counties in Illinois on Thursday, with officials also expected to begin sending out more than 1.8 million ballots to voters who have requested to vote by mail in the November general election.
Multiple suburban counties are among those offering in-person early voting beginning Thursday.
In DuPage County, voters can cast paper ballots early in person at the DuPage Fairgrounds, located at 2015 Manchester Road in Wheaton. The fairgrounds will be open for early voting on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through Oct. 16, when the weekday hours will be extended from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. until Nov. 2. Voters can also vote early at that location on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. through Oct. 17, when weekend hours change to both Saturdays and Sundays, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. through Nov. 1. Several other early voting locations will be available in DuPage County beginning in October.
In Kankakee, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, early voting begins Thursday at each respective county clerk's office. The locations and hours are as follows:
- Kankakee County: 189 E. Court St. in Kankakee, open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday through Oct. 19 when hours and locations are expanded.
- Will County: 302 N. Chicago St. in Joliet, open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday through Oct. 24 when hours and locations are expanded.
- Lake County: 18 N. County St. Room 101 in Waukegan, open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday through Oct. 16 when hours and locations are expanded.
- McHenry County: 667 Ware Rd. in Woodstock, open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday through Oct. 19 when hours and locations are expanded.
Election officials will also begin to mail ballots on Thursday.
More than 1.8 million voters in Illinois have already requested to vote by mail in the upcoming election, election officials say - putting the state on track to shatter the previous record.
If even a quarter of those ballots already requested are completed and returned for the election on Nov. 3, it would break 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. That figure was up from the 2016 general election, in which 370,000 people in Illinois voted by mail - equating to roughly 6.5% of all ballots.
More than 400,000 of those Illinois voters who requested mail-in ballots were Chicago residents, the city's Board of Elections said Wednesday, adding that the Board planned to mail 245,000 of those ballots in the first round on Thursday. In-person early voting begins in the city on Oct. 1.
The record number of applications to vote by mail in the upcoming election, as well as back in March, has been driven in large part by the coronavirus pandemic, with officials encouraging the practice as a way to minimize contact and potential exposure.
With that in mind, 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.
Under that new law, the Illinois State Board of Elections said 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-setting figures are likely to only continue to grow, with more than a month 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.
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.
"We are encouraging people to plan their vote -- whether Voting By Mail, using the U.S. mail to return it, or at an Early Voting Secured Drop Box -- or whether using Early Voting -- well ahead of Election Day," Chicago Board of Elections Chair Marisel Hernandez said in a statement. "Voting by mail is as secure and confidential as in-person voting, and it's the safest method of voting for those concerned about the pandemic."
More information on registering to vote, and the application to request a mail-in ballot, can be found here.