More than 1 million voters in Illinois have already requested ballots to vote by mail in the upcoming November election, election officials said Friday - putting the state on track to break the record for mail-in voting.
At least 1,111,387 applications to vote by mail were received as of Friday, the Illinois State Board of Elections said in a statement.
That total was "likely lower than the true total," officials added, because 28 election authorities across the state had not yet reported their total number of requests.
If even half of those 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. 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.
“We are encouraged by the strong response to the ongoing vote-by-mail effort,” Illinois State Board of Elections Executive Director Steve Sandvoss said in a statement.
“Voting by mail provides a safe, secure and convenient voting option for those concerned about COVID-19," he continued, adding, "It also will help ease congestion at in-person polling places during early voting and on Election Day.”
Nearly 300,000 of those 1.1 million Illinois voters who had requested mail-in ballots were Chicago residents, the Chicago Board of Elections said Friday.
The previous record for voting by mail in Chicago was 118,000, set in the March primary election, according to the Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen.
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.
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-setting figures reported Friday are 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.