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Governor Signs Legislation to Expand Vote by Mail

6/24/2020, noon | Updated on 6/24/2020, noon

Governor Signs Legislation to Expand Vote by Mail

To ensure safe and active participation in the 2020 general election during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Governor JB Pritzker signed SB 1863 and HB 2238 into law recently to provide vote by mail (VBM) applications to all recent voters in Illinois. The legislation also expands early voting hours at permanent polling places, improves the signature verification process and makes election day a state holiday, according to a press release.

“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,” said Governor JB Pritzker.

“Sending vote by mail applications to residents who have participated in recent elections will allow more people to exercise that right from the safety of their own homes and help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. I applaud Leader Kelly Burke, Senator Julie Morrison, the House Democratic Women’s Caucus and leaders in the General Assembly for working to ensure Illinoisans can continue to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming general election.”

In anticipation of the continued need for social distancing measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, vote by mail may be the safest method to cast a ballot in November.

Under the new law, local election offices must mail or email vote by mail ballot applications and the VBM timeline to voters who cast a ballot in the 2018 general election, the 2019 consolidated election or the 2020 general primary election, including voters who registered or changed addresses after the primary election. Voters who submit their application for a VBM ballot by October 1 will receive their VBM ballot by October 6.

The legislation requires the Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE) to:

• Post an application for a vote by mail ballot on its website;

• Modify the online voter registration system to allow a new registrant to apply for a VBM ballot when completing the online registration;

• Provide notice to each election authority about what it must do to comply with the new law and;

• Adopt emergency rules to provide reimbursement for expenses related to the 2020 general election incurred as a result of COVID-19 and the new requirements.

To improve the signature verification process, the legislation raises the standard for rejecting a VBM ballot. The election authority will be required to appoint a bipartisan panel of three election judges to verify voters’ signature and the validity of the ballot. Currently, only a single election judge makes this determination.

In an effort to prevent overcrowding at the polls on election day, expanding early voting hours will help ensure election authorities are able to comply with the Illinois Department of Health (IDPH) safety and health guidance.

Permanent branch polling places are required to be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends and holidays. The legislation permits the use of curb-side voting, in which voters can fill out the ballot outside of the polling place. The bill also authorizes election authorities to establish additional early voting hours for voters whom COVID-19 presents increased health risks.