Mask up or mail it in

In the age of COVID-19, both the act of voting and the announcement of election results will look different this year.

Voting-Covid image
Photo credit: Getty Images

The adage "vote early and often" is woven into the literary lore of Chicago. As the 2020 General Election approaches, and Illinois' COVID-19 positivity rate stubbornly refuses to turn the curve, voters are being encouraged to vote early (by mail or in-person). The good news is that there is plenty of time to take advantage.

The Illinois General Assembly's Special Legislative Session, notable for passage of a roughly flat state budget and COVID-19 relief measures in four long days, also passed important enhancements to the Illinois Election Code. The measures help to ensure voters avoid coronavirus exposure and safely vote early or on Nov. 3. State Sen. Julie Morrison, a chief architect and sponsor of PA 101-642, spent hours fielding questions in the Senate Chamber. Morrison deftly explained the need and rationale behind the bill's enhancements with particular attention to the robust vote-by-mail plan.

Every person who voted in any of the last three Illinois elections-2018, 2019, or the March 2020 election-should have been sent a vote-by-mail application by now. In Chicago, for example, voters can complete and sign the application and mail it back. Additionally, all registered voters can go directly to the Chicago Board of Election's website and complete a mail-in-ballot application online. Voters can also call the Chicago Board of Elections directly and ask that an application be sent to their address. Similar practices apply to the Cook County and Lake County election boards. Across the state, vote-by-mail ballots will be mailed out beginning Sept. 24.

Once received by the voter, there are expanded options for returning your signed and completed ballot. The recommended options are to drop it in a mailbox or deposit it into a secure ballot drop box. The law provides that all mailed applications post-marked no later than Nov. 3 will be counted, as long as received within 14 days. Certainly, with national concerns about post office capacity, early mail-in voting will help ensure your vote is counted. Additionally, in the event the vote-by-mail ballot is rejected, voting early will leave ample time for corrections.

Beyond the robust vote-by-mail plan, there are numerous additional voting improvements, including but not limited to:

  • Election Day is established as a state holiday. This will open up schools, universities, and government offices to serve as polling places;
  • Election judges can be as young as 16;
  • Optional in-person curb-side voting during early voting or on Election Day at discretion of the election authority;
  • New voter registrants can complete a request for a mail-in-ballot when completing online voter registration;
  • Early voting at Election Clerks' main offices will begin Sept. 24;
  • Election authorities must provide public notice of services and equipment available to assist elderly voters and voters with disabilities.

The many additional enhancements come with an approximate $17 billion price tag, which should be significantly off-set by federal CARES Act funds and are a likely reason why the legislation sunsets after the 2020 General Election.

Many voters cherish the ritual of in-person voting at their regular polling precinct, proudly displaying their voter bracelet receipt and eagerly awaiting election night returns. In the age of COVID-19, both the act of voting and the announcement of election results will look different this year.

Neither CJE SeniorLife's Lieberman Center nor Gidwitz Place will be polling places this November. However, voting tradition will not deter resident Helen Kamm. "I'm thankful to be able to vote from Gidwitz with the mail-in option, because every vote counts."

Amy Zimmerman is Assistant Vice President, State Government Affairs for the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago.

For decades JUF's Public Affairs Department has encouraged higher Jewish turnout through its "Voter Registration" campaign. While 75% of American Jews regularly vote (in contrast to about 50% of all Americans), the long-term trend is troubling: that 75% used to be 90%. Forebodingly, a high percentage of Jewish young adults have been bypassing the polls.

To apply online to vote-by-mail…

Cook County:;

City of Chicago:;

The rest of Illinois:

To sign up to be an election judge…

Cook County:;

City of Chicago:


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