vote-by-mail

State Letter Sparks Confusion In Illinois Mail-In Ballot Effort

The letter was mandated by state law but led many to believe their ballot applications were in doubt.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A well-intentioned mailer designed to remind Illinois voters of their right to apply for mail-in ballots has added fuel to the fire of an already fragile mail-in effort.

Letters went out last week from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White's office to some 5.4 million voters.

"Your local election authority had indicated that you have not yet applied for a ballot," the letter stated. "However, you still have time to submit an application."

Problem is, many who received the letters say they did apply for ballots, causing some to worry that the letters were fraudulent, or that their applications had been lost.

"It created great confusion," voter Laura Ash told NBC 5 from her home in suburban Cook County.

That confusion only increased when Ash called a contact number for the Cook County Clerk at the top of the letter.

"They asked me what the letter was," she said. "I told them it stated I hadn't applied for a ballot and I was confused about why I got it. And I got a very abbreviated answer that said it's a fraud -- throw it away."

Which was wrong.

In fact, the letters were mandated by the very law the General Assembly passed this summer which was designed to streamline mail-in balloting in Illinois.

"The Secretary of State's office was required to send a letter out by Sept. 15," explained Henry Haupt, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White. "That was actually our only requirement under the law that was passed by the General Assembly."

Haupt conceded that the letter possibly should have included language advising voters to disregard the notice if they had in fact applied for a ballot and said that language would be included in a second letter which is to go out next month.

But why did so many letters go out to so many people who had already applied?

Deadlines.

Matt Dietrich with the Illinois State Board of Elections told NBC 5 that the list of application no-shows was compiled from data supplied to their office from each of the Illinois' 108 election authorities, who had to submit those names by Sept. 2. Once the list was compiled, the state board was required to have it in the hands of the Secretary of State by September 5th, fully ten days before the letter went out.

"We used the list that was provided to us by the State Board of Elections," Haupt said.

Dietrich noted that last week alone, some 140,000 voters submitted applications for mail-in ballots. Which means plenty could have applied in the period between when the lists were compiled and when the letters were sent.

So far, 1.73 million voters have applied for mail-in ballots in Illinois, roughly four times the previous record of 430,000 during the mid-term elections two years ago. But offers for ballot applications were sent to some 6.4 million voters statewide.

Back in the suburbs, Laura Ash told NBC 5 she is relieved now that she knows the letters were legitimate, but feels diminished confidence in the way both the state and county governments are running the system.

"Yes, very frustrating," she said. "And very disappointing in the way our tax dollars are being used."

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