Illinois voting reforms worked well in challenging election year of 2020 – Crain’s Chicago Business

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how our very democracy is on the bubble, caught between a pair of stubborn septuagenarians in President Donald Trump and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, each refusing to recognize their time is up.

There’s been a bit of an awakening since, but the far more promising development is not what that pair has done but what we the people did. That’s to turn out in near-record numbers to vote despite the pandemic.

Now that I’ve had a chance to take a close look at what happened in the Nov. 3 election and talk to the experts, it’s clear that new, temporary voter-friendly procedures here in Illinois to encourage early and remote voting were a huge success, despite fears to the contrary. Those new procedures now need to be made permanent by the Illinois Legislature. Some fine-tuning likely is needed, but the system worked.

“Overall, the (new) law worked successfully,” says DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek, whose main concern is that lawmakers won’t be able to act fast enough to extend the provisions to cover the upcoming April 6 consolidated local elections, forcing her to scramble to find polling places.

Roughly 1.9 million Illinoisans voted by mail this cycle, and another 1.9 million early in person, leaving only about a third of the vote to come in on Election Day itself, reports Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections. “People seemed to like not having to crowd into a precinct polling place,” he adds, and with one small exception, “we got no reports” of fraud or election irregularities despite the highest percentage turnout in nearly three decades.

“Overall, everything I’ve seen, everybody I’ve heard from, the election seems to have come off very well,” says Rep. Tim Butler R-Springfield, who is the point person for Illinois House Republicans and was pretty skeptical earlier this year. “The vote by mail seemed to work out well.”

My, my.

Among the biggest hits were establishing drop-off boxes so people could deposit their ballot without having to trust to the mail, declaring Election Day a holiday to make more public facilities available—”That was a godsend” says Marisel Hernandez, chair of the Chicago Board of Elections—and automatically sending all active voters an application for a mail ballot rather than requiring them to separately request one.

The GOP’s Butler would like to see “some statewide consistency” in securing drop-off boxes but concedes the two in Springfield “were well used.” And as for everyone automatically getting a vote-by-mail application, “I don’t have a big problem, so long as you keep the (registration) rolls up to date.”

One thing that appears not yet on the horizon is sending not just vote applications but actual ballots to everyone. Even though that’s the practice in some states, “I am not convinced Illinois is there yet,” says Kaczmarek. “Despite sending mail applications to all registered voters, three-fifths of DuPage voters in this election still chose to vote in person during a deadly pandemic. That says a lot.”

Point taken. Still, the main sponsor of this year’s pilot program, Sen. Julie Morrison, D-Deerfield, says after sitting down with election pros to review the results, she expects to introduce legislation next year to make the new procedures permanent.

Morrison would like some tweaks. For instance, those who filled out a mail application and then tried to vote at their polling place weren’t allowed to vote in person. Hernandez wants to establish a permanent database so that anyone who applies for a mail-in ballot in one election automatically gets one for the next. Kaczmarek says the requirement that panels of three judges review each mail-in ballot signature was awkward to implement, and that “reminder” letters from Secretary of State Jesse White may have caused more trouble than they were worth.

Bottom line, as Hernandez concludes: “Show me the facts. The facts show we had a very safe and transparent and secure process.” In a 2020 that mostly was miserable, I’ll take that.


via “Illinois Politics” – Google News

November 25, 2020 at 02:44PM

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