441K Chicagoans Ask for Mail-In Ballots, As Early Voting Starts Thursday: Officials

(WTTW News)(WTTW News)

With early voting set to start Thursday in Chicago and suburban Cook County, approximately 441,000 Chicagoans have requested a mail-in ballot — nearly four times more than the number of mail-in ballots requested during the March primary, officials said.

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Statewide, 2 million Illinois residents have applied to vote by mail — nearly a quarter of all registered voters in the state, officials with the Illinois State Board of Elections said Wednesday.

In addition, Chicago election officials have signed up 10,500 election judges — 3,500 more than a month before the last election. However, officials are hoping to sign up an additional 3,000 judges to ensure that voting goes smoothly on Election Day.

Officials urged voters who plan to vote by mail to return their ballots as soon as possible, either through the postal service or by using a secure drop box at any early voting location, which will open Thursday.

“The more ballots processed by election authorities before Nov. 3, the more accurate a picture of the final numbers we’ll have on election night,” state election officials tweeted.

In Chicago, early voting will start Thursday at the Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark St., which will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Early voting locations will open in all 50 Chicago wards on Oct. 14, officials said.

For voters in suburban Cook County, early voting starts Oct. 12 at 69 W. Washington St. in the Pedway at the Cook County Clerk’s office, with suburban early voting sites opening Oct. 19.

Social distancing measures are in place, and workers have ample personal protective gear and hand sanitizer, officials said. 

Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Chair Marisel Hernandez urged Chicago voters to cast their ballots before Nov. 3.

Chicago voters typically cast between 1 million and 1.1 million ballots in a presidential election. Election officials are preparing for half of those ballots to be cast by mail.

The deluge of mail-in ballot applications in 2020 broke the record set when 117,000 voters requested mail-in ballots before the March primary election, officials said. The previous record was set before the November 1944 election, which took place during World War II, when more than 116,000 Chicagoans voted by mail, officials said.

The massive increase in ballot applications comes after officials passed a new state law designed to significantly expand voting by mail during the Nov. 3 election amid the coronavirus pandemic. The law required elections officials to send vote-by-mail applications to those voters who participated in the 2018 general election, the 2019 municipal elections or the March 2020 primary.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker called voting by mail perhaps “the safest method to cast a ballot in November.”

The last day to request a mail-in ballot is Oct. 29, officials said.

Illinois requires election authorities to count any and all ballots postmarked on or before Election Day, as long as they arrive within 14 days. But officials with the postal service want voters to mail their ballots no later than 15 days before Election Day. 

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