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Illinois House passes vote-by-mail expansion plan

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SPRINGFIELD (ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUREAU) -- The Illinois House voted 72-43 to pass an expansion plan for voting by mail for the 2020 General Election. This vote followed a lengthy debate between Republicans and Rep. Kelly Burke (D-Evergreen Park) who sponsored the proposal in the House.

Democrats discussed the possibility of implementing a vote-by-mail plan earlier this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic sped up their process. Sponsors say Senate Bill 1863 will give voters the opportunity to cast their ballots without going out in public, as there could potentially be a second round of COVID-19 spread this fall. If the bill passes out of both chambers, 4.8 million registered voters would automatically receive an application for vote by mail. More specifically, applications would go to anyone who voted over the last two years or recently registered to vote at a new address.

This plan wouldn't stop traditional voting at a polling place, as a portion of the bill addresses safety for election judges.

"We are going to be encouraging younger folks, those 16 years old and up, to become election judges," said Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield). "So many of our older, retired friends who have traditionally been election judges now have a lot of hesitation to be in these kinds of settings."

Election day as a holiday

Morrison is the lead sponsor of the proposal in the Senate. She says making election day a holiday for schools will also keep students from being exposed to COVID-19. This comes as most nursing homes and senior care centers won't host voters during the pandemic.

"Those just aren't going to be polling places any longer. So this is an opportunity just for this election to see how this plays out. This is a pilot. This is a demonstration, and this is only for November 2020," Morrison explained.

The plan also gives local clerks the option to expand early voting and provide drop off boxes.

Opposition to the plan

Republicans are cautious about the cost to mail nearly 5 million ballot applications. State officials estimate that could cost $2.7 million, but sponsors say federal funding from the CARES act should cover the cost. Many Republicans also say vote-by-mail could lead to ballot stuffing. However, Gov. Pritzker says the party is trying to deny people the right to vote.

GOP leaders are upset the governor thinks they are trying to hold people back from voting. They want fair and transparent elections. But, some also note voting is a "sacred right."

"I’ve been around here long enough and I know how this works, and I know how different parts of the state ‘work’ on election day," said Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs). "But I do know this also that, you know I’m not a person that believes in ultimate certainties, but there are two certainties in life. One that we will see the sun rise in the morning and the second one is that we’ll see voter fraud in November, particularly in Illinois at a robust, robust nature particularly with this bill.”

The proposal now heads to the Senate for approval.

Mike Miletich

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