CHICAGO — Officials are making a big push for Chicagoans to vote by mail for the Nov. 3 presidential election.
Already, more than 458,000 Chicagoans have applied to vote by mail. That process allows voters to receive a ballot in the mail, fill it out at home and send it in to have their vote counted.
Earlier this year, Gov. JB Pritzker made it easier for people to vote by mail by allowing people registering to vote online to apply for a mailed ballot at the same time. He’s also requiring local election boards to automatically send applications to people who have voted in recent elections.
Officials hope encouraging people to vote by mail will mean there are smaller crowds at the polls come Election Day, decreasing the risk of coronavirus spreading among voters.
Here’s what you need to know about voting by mail in Chicago:
Who Can Vote By Mail?
Any Chicago voter can vote by mail. You do not need an excuse or reason to vote by mail.
Need to register to vote? You can check if you’re registered online.
How Can You Vote By Mail?
1. You must have applied for a vote by mail ballot online or through a printed and mailed-in application form. The deadline to apply for a ballot is Oct. 29, but the US Postal Service suggests applying sooner.
2. You’ll receive email notifications from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to let you know your application has been received and is being processed, as well as when the ballot is mailed to you. Want to check on the status of your ballot? You can do so here.
3. Ballots will be sent out starting Sept. 24. Once you get yours in the mail, follow the directions and fill it out. You must use a black or blue pen or a felt-tip pen to fill out the ballot.
4. Return your ballot. It must be postmarked on or before Nov. 3. If you’re submitting a ballot within two weeks of Election Day, officials advise you to drop it off an early voting site rather than mail it in to ensure it’s counted.
Here’s how to send it in:
- Mail it in through the U.S. Postal Service or a licensed carrier like FedEx or UPS. Your ballot should come with a postage-paid ballot return envelope, so you don’t need to pay for postage.
- Bring it to the Election Board at 69 W. Washington St. on the sixth floor.
- Put it in a secured drop box at an early voting site. The election board recommends this option if you are submitting your ballot within two weeks of the election. The drop boxes will be available starting in mid-October.
5. Nervous that your ballot got lost in the shuffle? You’ll get an email when your Ballot Return Envelope has been approved for counting. You can see where your ballot is in the process here.
What’s The Deadline?
You must submit your ballot on or before Nov. 3.
If you’re mailing in your ballot, it must be postmarked no later than Nov. 3. But be careful: If you drop off your ballot in a mail drop box on or around Election Day, it could be picked up later and postmarked after Nov. 3. That means you should try to submit your ballot early or take it to a secured drop box at a voting site if possible.
The Chicago Board of Elections suggests turning your ballot in at an early voting site drop box if you received it after October 19 to ensure it is received and counted before Nov. 3.
What If You Don’t Get A Ballot?
If you don’t get a ballot before Election Day or you’re not able to fill it out and send it in on time, you should call 312-269-7967 on or before Oct. 29 to tell the elections board.
You can still early vote in person through Nov. 2, or you can cancel your vote by mail ballot and instead cast an in-person ballot on Nov. 3.
What If You Decide To Vote In Person?
Even if you applied to vote by mail, you can still opt to vote in person on or before Election Day. Just make sure you don’t cast multiple ballots — that’s a crime. Here’s what to do:
- Through Nov. 2, you can go to any early voting site (here’s our list) to cast a ballot. You will need to bring and submit your blank vote-by-mail ballot if you have it. If you do not have it, you’ll have to fill out an affidavit saying you lost it or never received it.
- On Election Day, go to your regular voting site. You will need to bring and submit your blank vote-by-mail ballot if you have it. If you do not have it, you’ll have to fill out an affidavit saying you lost it or never received it.
How Does Chicago Prevent Vote By Mail Fraud?
Though there’s no evidence of widespread vote by mail fraud in the United States, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners uses a variety of tools to prevent and check for fraud.
The board regularly updates its voter rolls and signatures. It uses data from other government agencies — like the U.S. Postal Service and the Cook County Clerk’s Office — to see if people moved or died and are thereby no longer eligible to vote, board chair Marisel Hernandez said in an email.
The board also sends out mailings to canvass voters once per year, Hernandez said. The mailings were sent out in the last two weeks of July this year.
For people voting by mail, the board allows voters to track the status of their ballot: when their application is being processed, when their ballot is mailed out to them, when the completed ballot is being processed, etc.
People voting by mail also have to sign their ballot return envelopes. That signature is compared to a person’s registered signature; if it’s in question, it will be reviewed by a bipartisan panel of three election judges, Hernandez said.
If someone is voting by mail, they should not vote in person. But just in case, the board compares ballot return envelopes with its electronic poll books to ensure no one tries to vote by mail and in person.
And if someone turns in a ballot at a secured drop box, there will be a staff member who will help the voter ensure their ballot return envelope is signed and sealed, Hernandez said.
“Of equal importance are the protections for the voters — to use phone calls and emails, when possible, to alert voters of a problem with their ballot return envelopes that they may be able to cure with additional documentation,” Hernandez said. “Or to be able to send out replacement ballots if voters do not receive their ballots.
“Or to be able to correct any errors in records so that if something innocent (such as two persons living in the same house accidentally use each other’s ballot return envelopes), we have a means of investigating and resolving that issue.”
Will You Still Get A Wristband?
No — but maybe you’ll like this even more: The board won’t give out “I Voted!” wristbands this year, but everyone will get an “I Voted!” sticker instead.
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