Officials: Vote-by-mail volumes could 'significantly' change results over next 2 weeks
With record-shattering vote-by-mail volumes reported statewide, and as many as 521,000 ballots yet to be returned, Illinois election officials are warning that unofficial vote totals may fluctuate "significantly" in the two weeks after election night.
As of Tuesday morning, when Election Day voters started heading to the polls, more than 906,000 suburban voters had already cast their ballots by mail or in a secure drop box, according to data from the State Board of Elections. But about 338,000 mail-in ballots had been requested and were still unaccounted for in suburban Cook and the collar counties.
Though it's uncertain how many of those outstanding ballots will actually be cast, Elections Board officials say many will likely roll in over the next two weeks, potentially flipping the outcome of some tight races. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by Nov. 17 to be counted in final tallies.
Election officials reported 177,118 outstanding mail-in ballots in suburban Cook County, 50,504 in DuPage, 10,917 in Kane, 59,118 in Lake, 18,306 in McHenry and 22,229 in Will.
Those numbers represent 10.8% of total registered voters in suburban Cook County, 7.9% in DuPage, 3.4% in Kane, 12.1% in Lake, 7.8% in McHenry and 4.8% in Will.
Statewide, unreturned mail-in ballots account for about 6.3% of a record-high 8.3 million registered voters. Nearly 3.8 million Illinois residents had already cast their ballots before Election Day, either by mail or at an early voting site.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a shift in voting patterns and an expansion of the state's vote-by-mail program, prompting local election authorities to install new equipment, hire additional personnel and increase their resources to accommodate the anticipated surge. Mail-in ballots can be processed and verified ahead of Election Day in Illinois, but they can't be tabulated until the polls close.
State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said he believes the "vast majority" of remaining vote-by-mail ballots will be delivered within three to five days. But it'll be up to local election authorities to decide how and when they want to post updated results.
In Lake County, election night totals will include most mail-in ballots submitted by Monday, though some have yet to be verified, according to a news release from County Clerk Robin O'Connor. Election judges and staff members are scheduled to continue processing mail-in ballots Wednesday.
As more vote-by-mail ballots are delivered, she said, the Lake County Clerk's office plans to update unofficial tallies on its website twice over the next two weeks: Nov. 10 and Nov. 17.
Other local election authorities have said they intend to post updates more frequently. In suburban Cook County, for example, officials indicated unofficial election results would be updated at least daily.
Local election authorities must be finished counting mail and provisional ballots by Nov. 17 and transmit results to the State Board of Elections by Nov. 24, officials said. The Elections Board then certifies the vote and publishes official results Dec. 4.