Eye On Illinois: Mail-in ballot law hasn’t changed … yet

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“Election judges are no longer required to match signatures on mail in ballots? Is this true? Legalized election fraud?”

It’s not true, R.C., but the question has roots in real legislation. Allow me to explain.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, introduced House Bill 45 on Jan. 13, 2001, the first day of the 102nd General Assembly. On Jan. 5, 2023, in the last week of that session, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, filed a floor amendment, which the Senate passed 39-16; the House concurred 69-40 the next day.

There’s a whole lot more procedural history, but the main thing to know is Gov. JB Pritzker hasn’t acted on the bill. Although we’re now in the 103rd General Assembly, he has until early March to make his decision to sign the bill or not.

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

What does the bill do? Relevant to the reader email, it amends the Election Code. The current law regarding mail-in ballots dictates an “election judge or official shall compare the voter’s signature on the certification envelope of that vote by mail ballot with the signature of the voter on file in the office of the election authority.”

If the governor approves, officials will be allowed to also compare signatures against a voter’s application for a mail-in ballot.

The clause inserted between “the” and “signature” in the above passage – “voter’s signature on the application verified in accordance with Section 19-4 or the” – clarifies election officials must first verify the application signature in order to use it to match a ballot, but discomfort with that provision is the crack through which opponents find room to argue the proposal enables absentee ballot fraud.

All Illinois voters have to in some way prove their identity to register and then again to vote. For in-person voting most of us sign in before an election judge who shows it to a partner for confirmation, all of which happens before a ballot is issued. Absentee voters don’t see this verification process in person, but it’s no less required.

A week after the House passed HB 45 as amended, National Public Radio issued a report on mail-in ballot rejection rates from the November general election. Illinois officials said judges rejected 21,180 of 814,593 mailed ballots. That was the sixth largest number of rejections nationwide and the second highest by percentage.

At 2.6%, Illinois trailed only Texas (2.7% – 9,348 of 345,697 mailed ballots) and was comfortably ahead of third place Oklahoma (1.8% – 1,327 of 71,978). The smallest rejection rate was Vermont, 0.1% (227 of 196,606) and the lowest total was West Virginia, which accepted all but 10 of 3,805 mailed ballots.

For information on how to vote by mail in your jurisdiction, visit tinyurl.com/VBMlist. The application deadline for the April 4 consolidated election is March 30.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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January 24, 2023 at 05:04AM

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