The primary provisions within SB 1863 - linked here (Rep. Burke, D-Oak Lawn/Sen. Morrison, D-Deerfield) are intended to facilitate an application process by which eligible voters can obtain and utilize mail in ballots and to make changes to ensure the safety of and enhanced participation in the 2020 general election. The impetus behind the legislation is safety concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The provisions within the bill are repealed on January 1, 2021. The legislation imposes new costs on counties and some of these added costs are intended to be offset with federal funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). All election authorities are affected by the bill. The legislation was approved by the General Assembly and will next be considered by the Governor.
Provisions Within SB 1863
2020 Election Day Declared a State Holiday
The bill would establish November 3, 2020, as a state holiday. All government offices, with the exception of election authorities, would be closed unless authorized to be used as a location for election day services or as a polling place. The day will be deemed a legal school holiday.
Vote by Mail Application Process
Beginning on the effective date of the Act, voters may by personal delivery, mail, email or on the website of an election authority apply for an official ballot for the 2020 general election to be mailed to the voter. Each election authority shall establish the URL address at which an elector may electronically request a vote by mail ballot no later than the effective date of the Act.
No later than August 1, 2020, election authorities must mail or email an application for an official vote by mail ballot for the 2020 general election to voters who applied for an official ballot for the: (1) 2018 general election; (2) 2019 consolidated election; or (3) the 2020 general primary election. It was mentioned during debate in the House that this includes approximately 5 million voters.
By the same date, election authorities must mail or e-mail an application for an official ballot for the 2020 general election to any voter who has registered to vote or changed his or her registration address after the 2020 general primary election through July 31, 2020.
Notices to Voters
Election authorities must provide certain notices to voters. These include: (1) notice the voter may complete the application and return it through personal delivery, mail, e-mail or visit to the election authority’s URL to request an official ballot; (2) notice that upon completion of the application, the voter will receive an official ballot no more than 40 days and no less than 30 days before the election; (3) an explanation that following submission of the application the voter will receive a ballot at his or her registered address or the mailing address requested by the voter, and such ballot must be completed and returned no later than election day; (4) a phone number or email address to contact the election authority if the voter does not receive an official ballot or if the voter has questions; and (5) a website or phone number the voter can use to confirm receipt of his or her official ballot. A copy of the application and the notice shall be made available on the website of the election authority.
Ballot Mailing and Processing
Election authorities must mail official ballots to voters requesting ballots no earlier than September 24, 2020. Except for members of the military casting absentee ballots, voters submitting applications on or before October 1, 2020, must receive a ballot no later than October 6, 2020. Official ballots must be mailed to a voter requesting a ballot after October 2, 2020, no later than 2 business days after receipt of the application.
Election authorities must appoint panels of three election judges, no more than two from the same party, to examine mail-in ballots. Judges may only disqualify mail-in ballots by unanimous vote for the following reasons:
- If the signature on the voter registration file does not match the signature on the ballot
- If the ballot is not signed
- If ballots are delivered opened
- If the voter has already cast a ballot
- If the voter voted in person on election day
- If the voter is not registered to vote in the precinct
The bill includes a notification process to alert voters that their ballot was rejected and provides recourse for the voter based upon the nature of a rejection. The Illinois State Board of Elections (ISBE) must be notified by an election authority within one day following the rejection of a mailed ballot. A state or local political committee can also request that an election authority electronically provide the names and address of any vote by mail ballots received and any vote by mail ballots marked rejected.
Eligible minors ages 16 and over can be election judges. Local election authorities with a population under 250,000 will be allowed to appoint three election judges, rather than five election judges required under the Illinois Election Code.
*A separate bill was approved by the General Assembly that, if signed into law, would make changes to the aforementioned provisions concerning election judges. HB 2238 – linked here (Rep. Burke, D-Oak Lawn/Sen. Morrison, D-Deerfield).
HB 2238 would make changes to the panels created by election authorities to compare the voter's signature on the certification envelope of the vote by mail ballot with the signature of the voter on file in the office of the election authority. The bill would require a vote of 3 of 3 election judges for a vote by mail ballot to be rejected because the signature on the certification envelope and the signature used by the election authority for verification purposes do not match or the certification envelope contains a signature but not in the proper location. The bill requires a majority vote among the 3 judges for other specified reasons. If election judges determine the ballot should be rejected for any reasons stated in the provisions, the judges must mark across the face of the certification envelope the word "rejected" and the date and names of the judges voting to reject the ballot. Requires all collection sites for vote by mail ballots to be secured by locks that may be open only by election authority personnel and requires the State Board of Elections to establish additional guidelines for the security of collection sites.
Receiving Mail-In Ballots
Election authorities may establish secure ballot collection sites for the postage-free return of vote by mail ballots. The bill includes requirements associated with ballot collection sites and when ballots must be accepted.
Voter Registration Changes
Beginning on the effective date of the Act, persons completing voter registration applications shall be notified of the option to receive a vote by mail ballot and can request that the registration serve as an application to receive an official vote by mail ballot.
Election Authority Responsibility to Inform Voters of Voting Options
Beginning on the effective date of the Act through October 30, 2020, election authorities must include information about registering to vote and encouraging voters to vote by mail or during early voting using specified written materials with a specific message provided in the Act. Similar requirements are applicable to the Illinois Secretary of State for materials produced to educate voters about a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The Secretary of State is charged with providing additional mail-in ballot application notices to voters that have not applied for a mail-in ballot.
Early Voting and Election Day Requirements
The bill requires local election authorities to establish at least one election day voting center in a precinct and specifies operating hours for early voting sites.
Curb-side voting is permitted by the bill. At least two election judges, one from each party, must be designated per vehicle and local election officials must follow guidance from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH).
Objections to Candidate Nominations
Election authorities may authorize service of objections to candidate nominations through email in lieu of personal service under certain circumstances.
Election Authority Reports to State Board of Elections
No later than August 2, 2020, election authorities must provide ISBE written confirmation of various compliance requirements. Election authorities must also provide ISBE with an electronic list of the names and addresses of every voter sent the required ballot application and notice. No later than September 2, 2020, each election authority shall provide to ISBE an electronic list of names and addresses of every voter sent the required application and notice who submitted the application and will receive an official ballot. No later than October 2, 2020, each election authority shall provide ISBE an updated list of the names and addresses of every voter sent the required application and will receive an official ballot. No later than 75 days prior to the 2020 general election, each election authority must provide public notice of its services and equipment available to assist elderly voters with disabilities. The notice provisions are specified in the Act.
State Board of Election Requirements
No later than two business days following enactment of the Act, ISBE must post on its website an application for an official vote by mail ballot for the 2020 general election. Within five business days of the effective date, ISBE must modify the online voter registration system to allow any new registrant to apply for a vote by mail ballot when completing online voter registration. Within 10 business days of the effective date, ISBE must provide notice to all election authorities of the provisions of the Act for which the election authorities must comply.
Reimbursement for 2020 General Election
ISBE may withhold any reimbursements for election related costs if an election authority is found to have failed to comply with the provisions of the Act. ISBE may adopt emergency rules to reimburse election authorities for expenses related to the 2020 general election incurred as a result of COVID-19 and the requirements of the Act deemed necessary for public safety. Reimbursement is based upon receipt and availability of federal funds.