Voting begins today in the suburbs: What you need to know
As voting begins around the suburbs today, election officials hope one message rises above the political din over the presidential election: Don't procrastinate.
Vote-by-mail applications have flooded county clerk's offices as voters take advantage of the option during the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 1.8 million mail-in ballots have been requested statewide.
Election authorities strongly urge voters to return their mailed ballots as soon as possible as they prepare to process the influx and keep poll workers safe from COVID-19.
Here's a guide to voting by mail and in person.
When will voters receive their mail-in ballots?
Election authorities will start mailing ballots to voters today. Voters should look for their ballots to start arriving to their address next week.
In DuPage County, more than 155,000 of 628,389 registered voters have requested mail-in ballots. That's close to a quarter of all voters on the rolls.
In suburban Cook County, 381,692 mailed ballots had been requested as of Tuesday. In 2016, roughly 31,000 voters sent in ballots by mail.
More than 126,000 voters in Lake County have applied for mailed ballots. McHenry County is hovering around 48,000 applications. And Kane County has received 92,246 applications.
Can I still request a mail-in ballot?
Under state law, voters have until Oct. 29 to request mailed ballots, or five days before Election Day. But election officials are appealing to voters to apply sooner rather than later.
"That's cutting it very close," said Adam Johnson, chief deputy county clerk in DuPage. "We encourage everyone to request their ballot far sooner than that to give themselves a little bit of breathing room."
Registered voters in Cook and the collar counties can apply online through their local election authority.
What is the deadline for returning ballots?
Don't tape your ballot to the fridge and wait until the last minute to deliver it.
Mailed ballots need to be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received within 14 days to be counted. As an alternative, election officials have installed secure drop boxes as lawmakers have questioned whether the U.S. Postal Service can deliver election mail on time.
How can I track my ballot?
In the rush of the holiday gift season, shoppers can track their package through the mail to ensure it reaches its intended destination.
That's the idea behind BallotTrax, a notification system available to DuPage, Kane and McHenry voters.
"The ability to track your own ballot and be personally involved inspires confidence," said DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek, who's signed up to receive text messages.
Voters can get alerts regardless of whether they mail or drop off ballots. DuPage covered the $7,000 vendor fee with federal funds through the CARES Act.
BallotTrax also will flag issues with returned ballots.
"If they forgot to sign it, we'll know because of the coding on the certification envelope who it belongs to," McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio said. "They'll get a notification through BallotTrax and also using a more traditional process from us to come in and cure that deficiency."
Where can I drop off my ballot?
For the next several weeks, DuPage voters can drop off their ballots in a box in the south parking lot of the county administration building in Wheaton. Other boxes will be installed inside early voting locations and polling places.
Kane will have drop boxes inside the clerk's office in Geneva, an Aurora satellite office and Elgin city hall.
In Lake, vote-by-mail ballot envelopes require a stamp. The clerk's office also is offering 21 boxes for voters to drop off ballots postage-free.
Drop boxes will be available at several Northwest Cook County suburban sites starting Oct. 19, but Oct. 7 at the Rolling Meadows and Skokie courthouses. Cook and DuPage voters do not need to add any postage to provided envelopes.
McHenry has a box outside the government administration building in Woodstock. Four more will be added Oct. 19.
What's the most secure way to deliver my ballot?
Election authorities express confidence in both options: mailing your ballot or bringing it to a drop box.
In Cook, officials say all ballots returned to drop boxes will be collected, secured and delivered to the clerk's office for processing on a daily basis.
Can I still register to vote?
Online voter registration will remain open until Oct. 18. Voters also can choose to register in-person on Election Day in their home precinct.
But officials encourage voters to register in advance to keep Election Day lines moving.
Where can I vote early in person?
Early voting will begin Oct. 7 at five suburban Cook courthouses. On Oct. 19, the county clerk's office will expand early voting to more than 50 sites in suburban Cook. For a listing, visit Cookcountyclerk.com.
Early voting at the DuPage fairgrounds in Wheaton starts today. Nearly 20 other early voting sites will begin operating Oct. 19. For hours, visit Dupageco.org/Election/Voting/EarlyVoting.
In Kane, early voting starts today at the county clerk's office in Geneva and the Aurora satellite office until Oct. 16. On Oct. 19, early voting expands to 25 sites listed at Kanecountyclerk.org/Elections.
Lake voters can cast ballots in the courthouse lobby in Waukegan beginning today. On Oct. 19, early voting will expand to 17 sites that can be found at Lakecountyil.gov/163/Elections.
McHenry voters can begin voting early today in the county clerk's office in Woodstock. On Oct. 19, other locations, found at Mchenrycountyil.gov, will open to early voters.
I requested a mailed ballot, but what if I want to vote-in person?
Voters have to bring their mailed ballot to the polling place and surrender it to election judges.
If a voter misplaces or forgets to bring their mailed ballot, election judges will allow the voter to vote provisionally. The clerk's office will count the provisional vote only after confirming that the voter didn't submit the original mail ballot.
• Daily Herald staff writers Eric Peterson and Lauren Rohr contributed to this report.