Local election authorities across Illinois will soon begin sending ballots to voters who requested to vote by mail in the November general election.
The Illinois State Board of Elections is scheduled to certify general election ballots on Thursday, officials said, with ballots to be printed and mailed to voters starting that same day through Oct. 4.
Nearly 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.
At least 1,769,803 applications to vote by mail had been received as of Wednesday, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. 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.
At least 412,918 of those roughly 1.8 million 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.
The previous record for voting by mail in Chicago was 118,000, set in the March primary election, Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen previously said. 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.