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Chicago Prepares as Vote-By-Mail Expands Ahead of November Election

As of Thursday morning, about 14,000 Chicago voters had already applied to vote-by-mail since Tuesday evening, according to the Chicago Board of Elections.

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All voters who participated in recent elections will now be sent an application for a mail ballot, thanks to a bill that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law this week.

Coronavirus concerns have pushed to the forefront how officials will carry out elections safely in November.

“Whether or not there's a vaccine, there's going to be a vote. And we need to do everything we can to keep our voters and our poll workers safe,” said James Allen with the Chicago Board of Elections.

Applications for ballots will be sent out next month. Ballots will be mailed in late September and early October. All mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day on Nov. 3 to be counted.

Allen said the new law strikes a “middle ground.” While states such as California have decided to mail ballots to all voters, Illinois will send applications for ballots to those who’ve participated in elections since November 2018.

Vote-by-mail expansion has become a political flashpoint. President Donald Trump has been an outspoken critic of statewide mail-in voting, claiming in an April 8 tweet that it leaves a “tremendous potential for voter fraud.”

There is no proof of that, and experts reiterate that voting by mail is safe and secure.

“It's been tried and it's worked in several jurisdictions, both red and blue, as well as purple,” Allen said. “The key thing for everybody to remember is to apply as early as possible, so that they have the time to receive their ballot and have the time to return their ballot.”

Allen said 50,000 emails have already been sent out to Chicago voters to encourage them to apply for their mail ballots through an online portal. As of Thursday afternoon, about 36,000 Chicago voters had already applied to vote-by-mail since Tuesday evening, Allen said.

“That will increase the accuracy of the data transfer from the voter to the election authority. That will also minimize the paperwork and the social distancing and the scanning setup that we're going to have to have,” Allen said.

Once applications are submitted, the Election Board will notify voters by email when the ballot has been mailed, when the ballot envelope has been returned and when the ballot has been processed and counted.

Allen said elections authorities are working on streamlining and securing the ballot return process. In Chicago, drop boxes that are staffed and monitored will be located at all 51 early voting locations, so voters can ensure delivery of their ballots.

“If anyone were to show up at one of these staffed, secure drop boxes with 60 (mail ballots) under their arm, we know that's not the same as delivering it for a parent or a relative or a sister or brother who lives with them, which is allowed under the law. That's a little bit different so we will be watching for things like that,” Allen said.

In-person voting will still be available on Election Day. Poll worker training will be conducted online and precautions, such as PPE and plexiglass, will be on hand, Allen said.

The new law also recognizes Election Day as a state holiday, which will open up more polling locations such as schools.

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