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Vote-by-mail expansion plan heads to governor’s desk

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WEEK) -- The Illinois Senate voted 37-19 to pass a voting expansion plan for the November 3 election. The bill heading to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk for approval will greatly expand Illinois' vote-by-mail system following the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

"The right to vote is the foundational pillar of our democracy -- and, now, as our elected leaders are making some of the most consequential decisions of our lifetimes, it's more important than ever that people have every ability to make their voices heard," said Gov. JB Pritzker. "I applaud Leader Kelly Burke, Senator Julie Morrison, the Women’s Caucus and leaders in the General Assembly for working to ensure Illinoisans can continue to exercise their right to vote during these unprecedented times."

"Overdue step toward modern convenience and safety"

4.8 million registered voters will 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. The plan also gives local clerks the option to expand early voting and provide drop off boxes.

“This is an overdue step toward modern convenience and safety in our elections,” said Senate President Don Harmon.

“It’s unfortunate it took a global pandemic to convince people of its value, but expanding vote by mail is a needed election reform that I hope voters will utilize.”

However, traditional voting at polling places will still be allowed. The bill makes election day a holiday for schools this year. Lawmakers say more schools can be used as polling places.

Senate Sponsor Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield) is also asking younger Illinoisans, 16 years old and up, to become elections judges. "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."

Republicans feel this will open the door for election fraud and "ballot stuffing."

Sen. Dale Fowler (R-Harrisburg) says this is a careless proposal. "I have significant concerns about the threat this legislation poses to the integrity of Illinois' election system," Fowler said. "We should be upholding and promoting a system that is secure and ensuring we're safeguarding our voter's rights, not passing legislation that allows for increased election fraud."

The Senate passed a separate plan, also sponsored by Morrison, to address security for ballots. House Bill 2238 would require all ballot collection boxes to be locked by and observed by local election authorities. It also calls for security guidance from the Illinois State Board of Elections.

Read more about what Central Illinois officials say this plan will cost them here.

Mike Miletich

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