Gov. JB Pritzker has said he wants the state to expand voting by mail for the November election, especially if COVID-19 is still keeping people at home.
The elections officer for McLean County is on board.
“Unfortunately or fortunately, however you want to look at it, I think it’s the way of the future,” said McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael.
Michael's office oversees all elections in McLean County outside of Bloomington.
She said voting by mail is becoming increasingly popular, noting that about 1,500 voters requested and mailed in ballots for the March 17 primary, marking a more than 60% increase over the 2016 primary.
She said much of that came before the coronavirus kept many people from going to the polls. At the time, Michael suggested the state delay the primary because of COVID-19 safety concerns.
She said her office has used social media to clear up misconceptions about why some voters don’t take advantage of the vote-by-mail option.
“I still have voters who say, ‘I thought I had to have an excuse’ (to request a mail-in ballot),” Michael said. “We’ve helped get that word out, too. You no longer need to make up a story as to why you want to vote by mail.”
Michael would like to see the state give election authorities more control to bolster mail-in voting, but they also would need more funding to mail ballots if the state chose to keep its current voting systems in place.
“I’m not going to spend a lot of taxpayer dollars to buy more advertising (for vote by mail),” she said. “We think word of mouth (is effective) and especially because of the virus, we are already getting requests for applications.
“That’s the earliest we’ve ever had requests.”
Michael cautioned if Illinois lawmakers and the governor wish to move to all voting by mail -- as five other states have done -- they will have to decide quickly so election bodies can have a plan ready for the fall.
“That’s my only big concern,” she said. “We’ve got to make sure that it’s going to be done right and safely and securely before it is launched.”
She said it’s unclear what the financial impact would be if election bodies transitioned entirely to vote by mail, but added that’s a secondary matter when states are dealing with a pandemic.
“When you start crunching numbers, the bottom line is the safety, security and health of the voters,” Michael said. “If that’s the way we are going now, I think you have to look at that versus the cost.”
Despite the increased use of mail-in balloting in the spring primary, voter turnout of 30% in McLean County fell far below initial projections, perhaps due in part to COVID-19 and what was still a crowded Democratic presidential primary field until shortly before Election Day.
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