BREAKING: Illinois House Passes Vote-by-Mail Expansion

NBC5 reports the Illinois House approved on Thursday evening an expansion of voting by mail for the fall election, using federal pandemic-relief funds, despite Republican criticism that it would take a financial bite out of county budgets and could increase errors and electoral fraud.

Rep. Kelly Burke’s proposal was adopted 72-43. It would encourage mail-in ballots by sending applications to anyone who voted by mail in 2018, 2019 or in this year’s primary. The Evergreen Park Democrat said it would provide a simpler and safer way to vote during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“As we adapt to public health guidelines and new technologies, it’s important we’re doing everything we can to protect our residents and ensure that they have access to voting,” Burke said.

Per BND the bill would require county election officials, by Aug. 1, to mail or email vote-by-mail ballot applications to any voter who cast a ballot in 2018, 2019 or 2020, as well as voters who registered or changed addresses after the March primary.

No later than Sept. 15, the secretary of state would send a notice to people who received an application but not yet returned it.

Completed vote-by-mail ballots would also be able to be returned in new “collection sites.” As for voting in person, the bill would allow local election authorities to allow curbside voting, in which voters can drive up, be handed a ballot and fill it out in their cars.

SB 1863 would also make Nov. 3, 2020, a state holiday observed by state offices and schools.

Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, the bill’s chief House sponsor, advocated for the legislation Thursday, saying it will “balance public health concerns with robust participation in elections.”

“It will make vote-by-mail more user-friendly, efficient, secure and accessible,” Burke told the full chamber in the Bank of Springfield Center.

The bill would also increase the number of election judges after the March primary saw many elderly judges not show up because of safety concerns. Citizens as young as 16 would be able to be judges. Students — in both high school and college — would be notified of their eligibility to be a judge, as would people who are unemployed.

Local election authorities would assign bipartisan panels of three judges to examine mail-in ballots and disqualify ballots which all three judges believe have signatures that do not match voter registration files.

Local clerks could also choose to facilitate early-voting hours for people with certain health conditions.

The Illinois State Board of Elections filed a fiscal note stating if all optional provisions are implemented by every local clerk, the bill would exhaust the $16.7 million of federal CARES Act funding received for elections.

Burke, though, said that figure is an “extremely generous estimate” because she does not expect every election office to implement every provision.