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Election Officials Address Confusion Over Letter From State

Nam Y. Huh
AP Photo
This March 17, 2020 file photo shows Evanston residents lined up to vote. More than 1 million Illinoisans have applied to vote by mail for the November election, nearly triple the number from the last presidential contest.

A letter sent by the Illinois Secretary of State’s Office is forcing local election officials to reassure citizens that they are not required to vote by mail for the November election.

Many residents received a mailed reminder indicating their vote-by-mail applications had not been received.


“A lot of people read it (as) they had to request a vote-by-mail ballot,” said Peoria County Election Commission Executive Director Tom Bride. “So, we have people calling concerned that they didn’t want to vote by mail; they wanted to vote on Election Day, or they wanted to vote early, and (they’re) making sure they still could do that.”

Part of the letter states that a recipient’s “local election authority had indicated that you have not yet applied for a ballot.” Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman said that makes some people think applying is mandatory.

“Some of the verbiage in there scared residents that felt that they had to vote by mail, or they wouldn’t be able to vote and something that changed,” Ackerman said. “So we’ve been reassuring voters that all of our polling locations will be open on election day.”

Henry Haupt, spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s office, said the letters were mandated by lawmakers.

“We used the language in the state statute for the Sept. 15 letter,” Haupt said in an email. “As required by state law, there will be a follow-up letter in mid-October.”

Bride said the law passed earlier this summer requires election offices to send vote-by-mail applications to anyone who has voted since 2018. He said it appears the letters sent out on Sept. 15 used a mailing list that was not fully up to date.

“There’s a lag in the data,” said Bride. “The data they were working off of, we submitted by Sept. 1 to the state board, who then transferred to the Secretary of State's office. So we have people that have requested a vote-by-mail ballot in the last couple of weeks, and they were calling to try to make sure that they had.”

Ackerman said his entire staff has spent the past two days fielding inquiries about the letter, resulting in diverted attention that should be directed at preparing mail-in ballots for distribution beginning Sept. 24.

“This is a major mistake on the part of the state of Illinois because I can tell you every election office is pressing right now to get those vote-by-mail applications processed,” Ackerman said. “This mistake has cost local election officials valuable time and resources, answering questions on the phone that would not have come up had this letter not been gone out. It has been extremely detrimental.”

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.