As suburban mail-in ballots trickle in, election officials say safeguards prevent voting twice

  • Election judges Wendy Rarick, left, and Matt Vail, a Democrat and Republican respectively, pull mail-in ballots from a drop box outside the county clerk's office in Wheaton.

    Election judges Wendy Rarick, left, and Matt Vail, a Democrat and Republican respectively, pull mail-in ballots from a drop box outside the county clerk's office in Wheaton. Courtesy of DuPage County Clerk's office

 
 
Updated 9/30/2020 7:44 PM

Vote-by-mail ballots started arriving in suburban mailboxes last week, and it didn't take long for them to begin returning to local election authorities.

"They've already starting coming here in the mail and we're checking our three drop boxes regularly," said Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham on Tuesday. "Right now, we've counted 2,579, but the day's not over yet."

 

More than a quarter of Kane County's registered voters requested mail-in ballots, Cunningham said. Voters can return their ballots by mail or at three secure drop boxes at the clerk's office at 719 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva; the clerk's satellite office at 5 E. Downer Place, Aurora; and at Elgin City Hall at 150 Dexter Court.

In Will County, voters worried about returning their ballots by mail can use one of eight drop boxes throughout the county. Those eight locations are available at thewillcountyclerk.com/elections.

"Ballots are collected from the drop boxes twice a day," said Chuck Pelkie, chief of staff to Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry. "This was a new system for us, and it's taken some considerable planning and energy to put together the collection schedule."

Two teams of three election judges -- two from one political party and one from another -- drive around the county to four drop boxes each twice each day. When they get to a drop box, usually inside a suburban library under video surveillance, two of the judges fetch the ballots from the box while the other judge stays in the car with the already collected ballots.

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Through Sunday, Pelkie said 898 mail-in ballots had been collected either from the drop boxes or through the mail.

More than 107,000 Will County voters have requested mail-in ballots, which represents slightly less than a quarter of the county's registered voters.

Other suburban election officials in Cook, DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties had yet to collect or count the smattering of mail-in ballots they had received earlier this week.

"We mailed out the first of ours on Thursday, so we haven't gotten any back in the mail yet," said DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek on Monday. "But we can see them using the drop box at our office."

More than a quarter of voters have requested mail-in ballots in DuPage and Lake counties as well as in suburban Cook County, according to election officials. In McHenry County, 23.5% of voters are receiving ballots in the mail, according to County Clerk Joe Tirio.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That's "more than we've ever had request mail-in ballots before, without question," Tirio said.

Voters who requested mail-in ballots can still vote in person.

The best way to vote in person if you requested a mail-in ballot is to bring the mail-in ballot with you to a polling place and turn it in to election judges there. Otherwise, your in-person ballot will be cast provisionally, which wouldn't be counted until two weeks after the election, state election officials explained.

"Your vote is going to sit there until after the vote-by-mail deadline passes, and nobody wants that," said Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections.

All election officials have a record of who requested a mail-in ballot. If a voter shows up to vote in person, the election judge will ask for the vote-by-mail ballot. If the voter doesn't have one, the voter has to sign an affidavit saying the mail-in ballot was not cast. If the voter tries to vote by mail and cast a ballot in person, the person could be charged with a felony, Dietrich said.

"Even if the mailed ballot arrives after you've cast your ballot in person, it won't be counted because the system will see that you already cast a ballot," he said.

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