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Illinois Aims To Boost Voter Turnout By Making Mail-In Voting Easier — And Declaring Election Day A Holiday

Officials hope more people will vote by mail this November due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A polling place at the Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St. in Lakeview.
Mauricio Peña/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — Gov. JB Pritzker has expanded the state’s vote by mail program ahead of the November election due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

New laws signed by Pritzker on Tuesday make Election Day a state holiday and require officials to automatically send vote by mail applications to people who have voted in recent elections. The new legislation also expands early voting hours at permanent polling places.

Officials are hoping more people will take advantage of vote by mail and early voting, preventing long lines — and the potential spread of COVID-19 — at polling places during the presidential election Nov. 3.

“In the face of a pandemic, massive economic upheaval, and renewed calls for racial justice, it’s more important than ever that Illinoisans can hold accountable a truly representative and transparent government — and that means ensuring all eligible residents can wield their right to vote in a way that doesn’t risk their personal health,” Pritzker said in a press release.

Here’s a breakdown of major changes:

  • Election Day will now be a holiday for all government offices except election authorities, schools for kids in kindergarten through high school and some post-secondary schools.
  • Local election offices must mail or email vote by mail applications to people who voted in the 2018 general election, 2019 consolidated election and 2020 general primary election. Voters who do submit an application must receive a ballot no later than Oct. 6.
  • The Illinois State Board of Elections must modify the online voter registration system so people registering can apply for a vote by mail ballot at the same time.
  • Local election authorities will now face a higher bar when trying to reject a vote by mail application over its signature verification. Authorities will now need to appoint a bipartisan panel of three election judges to verify voters’ signatures; previously, only one was used.
  • Permanent polling places must expand their early voting hours to 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends and holidays. Polling places will also be allowed to establish extra voting hours for people more at risk from coronavirus.
  • Polling places can now allow curb-side voting, where voters fill out a ballot outside the polling place.
  • Local election offices must also establish a central voting site for anyone who lives in a jurisdiction, regardless of their precinct.

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