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What You Need To Know About Voting By Mail In Illinois

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With concerns about voting at crowded polling places on Election Day in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1.82 million voters in Illinois already have requested to vote by mail in the 2020 presidential election.

Requests to vote by mail have skyrocketed compared to the last presidential election, when there were approximately 500,000 total requests for the general election in Illinois, and approximately 370,000 ballots actually cast by mail.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said, in the city alone, 412,915 people already have applied to vote by mail as of Wednesday morning. That's four times the number of people who applied to vote by mail in the 2016 election, with four weeks to go before the deadline to apply. A spokeswoman said the city will soon quadruple the all-time record of 118,000 mail ballots requested for the primary elections in March, which just edged out the World War II total of 116,000.

The first 245,000 ballots will be sent out to Chicago voters on Thursday, the first day election authorities can begin mailing ballots to voters to those who have requested them.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said voters who have applied for mail-in ballots will get emails confirming their application has been received and processed, as well as a link to track their ballot once it has been mailed. The deadline to apply to vote by mail is Oct. 29, but election officials said voters who haven't applied yet should do so immediately to ensure they have enough time to receive, fill in, and return their ballot.

"We are encouraging people to plan their vote -- whether Voting By Mail, using the US mail to return it, or at an Early Voting Secured Drop Box -- or whether using Early Voting -- well ahead of Election Day," Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Chairwoman Marisel A. Hernandez said in a statement. "Voting by mail is as secure and confidential as in-person voting, and it's the safest method of voting for those concerned about the pandemic."

Officials urged voters to fill out and return their ballots by Oct. 14, to make sure they arrive in time to be counted. Voters should follow all instructions that come with their ballot to make sure it is valid, and should fill out their ballot only with a blue or black ballpoint pen or felt-tip pen, and not a red pen, because ballot scanners cannot read red ink.

Voters must sign and seal their ballot return envelope and either return it via the U.S. Postal Service, dropping it off at the Election Board offices at 69 W. Washington St., or at secure drop boxes that will be set up at every early voting site in the city, including the Loop  Super Site at 191 N. Clark St. downtown.

The city's downtown Super Site opens for early voting on Oct. 1, and the other early voting sites in the city's 50 wards open on Oct. 14.

Voters will be notified by email once their ballot is received by the Election Board, and again when it has been approved for counting, or if there is a question or problem regarding their ballot return envelope.

Election officials said, once a mail-in ballot has been received, it cannot be withdrawn, and the same voter cannot vote in person on Election Day or during early voting unless he or she brings the mail-in ballot to the election judges, or signs an affidavit stating the mail ballot was lost or never received.

Any mail ballot postmarked on or before Election Day will be counted if it arrives at the Election Board within 14 days of election day. Ballots postmarked after Election Day cannot be counted. Officials warned, if you place your ballot in a mailbox on or near Election Day, it might be postmarked late, and deemed ineligible, so your best bet is to mail it by Oct. 14, or deliver it to a dropbox.

How Do I Vote By Mail If I Don't Live In Chicago?

In suburban Cook County, voters can apply for a mail ballot with the Cook County Clerk's office.

In the Cook County suburbs, voters can drop off their completed mail-in ballots at the Cook County Clerk's office at 69 W. Washington, or at suburban drop boxes staffed by the Cook County Clerk's office.

For Illinois voters who live outside Chicago and Cook County, and want to vote by mail, check with your city or county election official's website: For voters outside suburban Cook County, please visit your city or county's website for more information.

In Indiana and Wisconsin, any registered voter also can request absentee ballots by mail. For information on how to vote by mail, visit your state's election website:

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