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Mail-in ballot numbers increase as voter turnout looks at 2018 levels

The number of voters who cast ballots ahead of Election Day in Chicago and some surrounding counties is closely tracking voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, according to a number of election officials.

By Monday, 131,165 Chicago voters had cast early ballots or returned mail-in ballots, compared with 132,065 at the same time four years earlier, the last time Illinois held races for governor and other state offices. Election officials in Chicago said turnout ahead of Election Day has increased in recent weeks after appearing low about a month ago.

“We look healthier now,” Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Max Bever said. “Compared to 2018, we’re on our heels.”

In the week leading up to Election Day, Nov. 8, voters are increasingly using mail-in ballots to make their choices, a trend experts say could signal a permanent shift.

Chicago voters have already requested more than 200,000 mail-in ballots Monday, second only to the 2020 presidential election, which took place at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Bever said.

“We’re in a transition period now where people are learning to vote in different ways,” said Christopher Mooney, a political scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The growing use and acceptance of mail-in voting is an offshoot of the 2020 election pandemic. In future elections, the ability for people to automatically receive a mail-in ballot instead of requesting a ballot each election is likely to become more of a possibility.

Like Chicago, the majority of mail-in ballots so far have been in Will County, according to Charles Pelka, who is chief of staff for Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry. Pelky compared this year’s election turnout to the 2018 contest.

“We’re on par to come close or maybe match that,” Pelkey ​​said.

Voting followed the same pattern as last Lake County midterm election, and more voters are expected as Election Day approaches, Lake County Clerk Robin O’Connor said.

“A lot of people tend to vote early the weekend before the election,” O’Connor said. “We’re ready for it.”

The number of mail-in ballots returned in DuPage County through Tuesday surpassed the number returned at the same time during the 2018 election. According to data shared by DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek’s office, 44,950 voters had returned as of Tuesday morning, compared to 17,006 a week before the 2018 general election.

While in-person early voting dropped by nearly 10,000, voting before Election Day increased by about 18,000 due to a jump in mail-in ballots.

“Promoting mail-in voting and doubling the number of early voting locations gives us a good start,” she wrote in an email.

The 2022 general election will be the first at-large election in Illinois since the passage of the expanded vote-by-mail and drop-box law. The voting programs have passed, said Chicago Votes co-executive director Stevie Valles.

“Many of the policies in place that make it easier for people to participate are now making their case,” he said.

He expects turnout to continue to grow until Election Day. Advocacy groups like Chicago Votes have focused their attention on election week, and many voters will continue to wait until Election Day to vote, he added.

But a high early voter turnout doesn’t necessarily mean a high final turnout, Mooney warned, as more people voting early could mean fewer people vote on Election Day.

“I think you’re probably going to get an average,” said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Only the final turnout after Election Day will tell whether the expanded access to voting has really had an impact on voters, he added.

“If all you’re doing is rearranging the furniture, you haven’t really done anything in terms of participation,” Redfield said.

In this election, Redfield said, unions and union members may pack a punch because a state constitutional amendment to allow collective bargaining is on the ballot, while Republicans may turn out in larger numbers to express their displeasure with the passage of many elements of the controversial SAFE-T Act.

While many are voting early, voters who have yet to go to the polls are receiving unsolicited text messages with incorrect information about polling places on Election Day, the Illinois State Election Commission warned in a news release late Tuesday.

Some Illinois voters complained to the state board that unsolicited texts sent from a group called Vote Futures listed their addresses and advised them to vote at the wrong polling place, the release said.

Movement Labs, a vendor that works for progressive organizations like Voto Latino and Black Voters Matter, acknowledged in the statement that he sent incorrect information in text messages to voters in Illinois as well as Kansas, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia.

“We want Illinois voters to know that their election information should only come from reliable sources, such as the State Board of Elections or their local board of elections,” said Board of Elections Executive Director Bernadette Matthews.



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