Illinois Mail-in Voting Surge Contributes to Election Like No Other

By Chris Katsaros |  @RedLineProject | Posted: Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020



Northwestern University student David Flores shared his fundamental reasoning behind choosing to vote by mail in this election.

“I chose to vote by mail because I was kind of scared to go in person, given the pandemic,” he said.

“I live with a lot of individuals who could be affected terribly by the virus and I did not want to jeopardize their health, so I thought the safest way to go about voting was by mail.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the use of mail-in voting to the forefront of coverage for Election 2020. The Chicago Board of Elections is encouraging voters to vote by mail or vote before Election Day, Nov. 3, on its website.

A source with the Board of Elections said it was working closely with USPS even before the COVID-19 pandemic to increase vote by mail participation. A tracking system has been implemented that uses barcodes to track voters’ ballots. Voters will receive email confirmations when their ballots are sent out and received.

As of Oct. 1, the Board of Elections reported more than 450,000 vote-by-mail applications had been received.

As of Aug. 28, Illinois ballot applications stood at just more than 1.1. million, and the Illinois Board of Elections noted that number was likely lower than the true total because 28 election authorities had not reported their totals yet. This number is significantly higher than the 430,000 votes casted by mail in the 2018 general election, and the 370,000 votes by mail in the 2016 general election. The 2012 general election saw only 222,055 vote by mail applications.

Dr. Dick W. Simpson, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and former 44th Ward alderman, said there are many benefits to mail-in voting.

“[Mail-in voting] will increase voting turnout,” Simpson said. “It will save lives of people who don’t catch COVID-19 by voting, and enlarging the electoral participation is a major goal in a democracy.

“I think [mail-in voting] will continue to trend up. It might not reach quite the same level that it does this year, depending on what the circumstances are in future years, but I think in general mail-in voting will seem very convenient and accurate.”

Benefits and Drawbacks of Mail-In Voting

The conversations around mail-in voting have become polarizing as Election Day draws closer. Every state has different rules on how absentee voting, or voting by mail, is conducted. A tool for locating the absentee ballot rules in each state can be found on Vote.org.

The League of Women Voters of Chicago lists several advantages and disadvantages of mail-in voting on their website. The advantages they included were voter convenience, financial savings, and voter turnout. The disadvantages listed were tradition, disparate effects on some populations, security, financial considerations, and slow vote counting.

The convenience of mail-in voting may describe the expected increase in voter turnout for the upcoming presidential election in Chicago. According to a source with the Chicago Board of Elections, while 67% of registered voters is the traditional turnout for presidential elections, they anticipate that number to increase to 78% this November.

Dr. Evan McKenzie, head of the Department of Political Science at UIC, was asked about whether mail-in voting will stay in Illinois after the COVID-19 pandemic He said he  believed that it is here to stay for a variety of reasons.

“Oregon, Washington, Utah and Colorado were already doing their entire election process by mail,” McKenzie said. “They have been doing that for years, and it works great. It is a very simple process, it is much easier, it is less expensive, and now we have another six states that are sending everybody ballots.”

McKenzie noted that a second reason that mail-in voting is here to stay is that Illinois is run by Democrats.

“Democrats want to increase voter turnout, Republicans in the last 20 years or so have been trying very hard to make it harder for people to vote,” McKenzie said, “so since this state is run by Democrats, I am sure they will continue [mail-in voting].”

But mail-in voting comes with a cost, and President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied to bail out a struggling USPS with relief grants. His refusal to fund the USPS led Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to release a statement on Aug. 18, clarifying confusion about the Post Office going forward. DeJoy noted that previously planned reforms to the USPS were being suspended until after the election.

“I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability” DeJoy said. “I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective...To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”

Dejoy assured voters that Post Office hours will not change, mailboxes will not be removed, mail processing centers will remain open, and employees will be granted overtime.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Here is a map of Post Office locations in Chicago that voters can visit to mail their ballots.

INTERACTIVE MAP: Secure Chicago drop boxes where voters can drop off their ballots. Locations mapped by ward can be found here.

The Chicago Board of Elections recommends that voters drop off their ballots as soon as they are completed at a secure drop box, as an alternative to using the USPS.

Starting Oct. 14 and continuing until Nov. 3, 50 Ward sites will have secure drop boxes for Early Voting. The hours will be Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

When asked about the potential for a slow vote count, Simpson said the concerns are valid but will not affect Illinois as seriously for two reasons.

“We can start counting ballots early, we do not have to wait until election day” Simpson said. “The results don’t go into the precinct and into the final count until they push a button on Election Day, but the actual counting will start early.

“It is not going to be close, as it was when Hillary Clinton ran against Donald Trump in 2016. Here we will know, particularly about the presidential election, by election night that Biden has won the presidential electors out of Illinois.”

Concerns Over Voter Fraud with Mail-In Voting

Trump has long been a critic of mail-in voting, claiming that it will lead to election fraud. He addressed the matter in an Aug. 25 tweet: “80 Million Unsolicited Ballots are impossible for election centers to tabulate accurately. The Democrats know this better than anyone else. The fraud and abuse will be an embarrassment to our Country. Hopefully the Courts will stop this scam!”

When asked about the concern of potential voter fraud with the increase in mail-in voting, McKenzie said it is not a matter of opinion.

“This has been studied extensively, and there is absolutely zero evidence that [mail-in voting] is subject to any significant level of fraud,” McKenzie said. “It is a ridiculous argument, it has no facts behind it at all.”

How to Vote

Information about how to register to vote in the city of Chicago can be found here.

The application to vote by mail in the city of Chicago can be found here and will be open through 5 p.m. on Oct. 29.

The state of Illinois notes that the registration period for online voter registration will end at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 18 and will reopen on Nov. 5. The website to register can be found here.

INFOGRAPHIC: Here is an infographic on the history of mail-in voting.

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