Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said there are "an awful lot of challenges" facing voters during the upcoming election.
With the coronavirus pandemic bringing health concerns to the forefront of in-person voting and some questioning if changes at the U.S. postal service will threaten the integrity of the election, many are worried as November approaches.
"This is an unusual election right in the middle of a pandemic," Pritzker said when asked about his biggest concerns Friday. "We're dealing with not only the massive increase, appropriately so, of people who are mailing in ballots - and I want to encourage everybody to make sure and apply for a ballot. Get your ballot, send it in as early as you can. That's the best way to handle it."
Still, Pritzker said the state is also preparing for in-person voting in the midst of the pandemic.
"If people want to vote in person, you know, I have talked to the Board of Elections, my staff has talked to clerks across the state to make sure that they're preparing for hand sanitizer, for people wearing masks who are managing those posts at the ballots, about boxes and making sure that we're just as safe as possible across the state, not only in early voting, which is coming up relatively rapidly, but also on election day itself," Pritzker said.
But even after Election Day, Pritzker said Illinois residents should be prepared for changes.
"Just speaking of Illinois, of course I would say that, as you know, it's going to take some time to count all of the mail ballots that will come in," he said. "So I think the public, which is often used to seeing election night results at 10 o'clock at night, is likely not going to see those results until perhaps the next day, the day after. And not to mention the national results, which in many other states, I think might be even slower."
The country has struggled with voter turnout in past elections and the pandemic is causing more participation obstacles.
Elections officials have been urging voters to return their ballots as soon as possible because of concerns with slower mail delivery and the expected unprecedented number of absentee ballots.
As of Sunday, more than one million Illinoisans had applied to vote by mail for the November election, roughly triple the number of the last presidential contest in 2016.
This year’s spike follows a law expanding mail voting, which Pritzker signed in July to address coronavirus concerns. Among other things, the law makes Election Day a holiday for schools and government employees and requires that anyone who voted since 2018 be sent an application.
As a result, election officials sent 6.4 million applications statewide.
The record number during the pandemic has left election officials scrambling to adjust and some voters worried about the process.
Election officials are making adjustments to address the volume. The first mail ballots will be sent to voters on Sept. 24, when early voting begins.
Some locations are debating whether to offer secure ballot drop boxes as another option with reports of mail delays.
Chicago said there’ll be a least 50 boxes, with one in each city ward, according to to Lance Gough, executive director of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
But dozens of Illinois' 108 election jurisdictions have said they won't offer them, according to an elections board survey in July.
Meanwhile, Illinois' attorney general has warned of robocalls spreading misinformation, including fraudulent calls saying mail voting will give private information to third parties like police.
Election officials and advocacy groups, who say mail voting is as secure as in-person voting, are advising voters to think ahead. The new law says voters who request a ballot on or before Oct. 1, must get them by Oct. 6.
“This year, more than ever, it’s really important that you plan your vote, especially if you are going to vote by mail,” said Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich. “Get your application in now. Don't wait.”