Welcome to the first-ever What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Vote (WTEWYETV) guide! This is a volunteer effort to share information about the in-person voting process in Chicago, with the goal of demystifying the actual steps required to cast a ballot. We were inspired to make this guide both by the introduction of new voting equipment and by this helpful Reddit thread featuring instructions for going to Subway. This guide is only relevant for voters within the City of Chicago for the March 17th primary, does not include the voting by mail process, and is primarily based on poll worker training materials from the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE).

This is the text-only version. We also have an illustrated version of the guide available online at: https://bit.ly/2TJ7E3K.

Registering to Vote

If you need to register to vote, or change the name or address associated with your registration, you can do so a few ways:

  • Online, before Sunday March 1
  • By mail, postmarked by February 28th
  • In person at early voting, March 2nd through the 16th
  • In person on Election Day, March 17th

Side note: When you register to vote, you will be asked to identify your sex as either male or female. Unfortunately those are the only two options.

To register to vote, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be 18 years old by November 3rd, 2020. In other words, be born on or before November 3rd, 2002.
  • Live in your precinct at least 30 days before the election
  • Not claim the right to vote elsewhere
  • Not be in prison or jail serving time for a conviction.

If you have been incarcerated, you are still eligible to vote if:

  • You have been released from prison or jail and meet all of the above requirements
  • You have been released and you are on parole or probation.

Individuals who are currently in jail pre-trial%u200A, %u200Ain other words, who have not been convicted of a crime%u200A, %u200Aare also eligible to vote. Chicago Votes works directly with Cook County Jail to facilitate on-site voter registration and elections. They passed legislation to make Cook County Jail the first jail in the country that is an official early polling place! You can also check out this fact sheet regarding voting with a criminal record, as well as a longer Know Your Rights guide.

Voting in person

Find your polling place. If you plan to vote early, you can vote at any polling place! From February 19th until March 1st you can vote at the Loop Super Site. From March 2nd to March 16th there is a voting site open in every ward.

On March 17th, Election Day, you can only vote at your precinct, the polling place assigned to you based on your address.

Once you enter the polling place, a poll worker will ask you to fill out an Application for Ballot. This gives poll workers the information they need to look you up in the system efficiently.

This is not the same as registering to vote. Because it is a primary election, poll workers will also you for your political party. There are different ballots for each party, so if you select the Democrat ballot you will only see Democrat presidential candidates.

Asking for your year of birth is just another detail that allows poll workers to confirm who you are.

Return your completed Application for Ballot.

The poll worker will look you up, add information to and initial the Application for Ballot, and give it back to you.

Bring your Application for Ballot to the next table, where a poll worker will issue your ballot. When you vote early you will likely use a touchscreen. On Election Day, you will be able to choose between a paper ballot and the touchscreen.

Using a touchscreen

Take the plastic card and privacy sleeve given to you and go to the touchscreen voting booth. Insert the card and follow the prompts on the screen.

New: After voting on the touchscreen, a printer will print your ballot! You must take that ballot to the poll worker at the ballot scanner. You should be able to keep your vote private by placing the ballot in the privacy sleeve when asking the worker to initial it.

They will initial it, and then you will insert the printed out ballot into the scanner.

Important: Poll workers cannot insert your ballot if you leave it in the printer. Please make sure to take this step before leaving your polling place!

Using a paper ballot

Take your ballot, sharpie and privacy sleeve to the voting booth. This year, select the candidate of your choice by filling in a bubble next to their name. In past years, voters connected an arrow instead of filling in a bubble.

After finishing your vote, take your ballot and insert it into the scanner.


The touchscreen allows for voting with:

  • An audio-visual ballot. You wear headphones and make your selections on the screen.
  • An audio-only ballot. You wear headphones and make selections on a controller, like a video game device.
  • A sip-and-puff device. You bring your own sip-and-puff device and insert it into the touchscreen port.

Elderly voters or voters with disabilities can also request assistance entering the polling place. If you cannot physically enter your polling place, you can request curbside voting. That means you can vote from your car, for example, as long as you are within 50 feet of the polling place entrance. You will be supported by two election judges, one from each political party.

The Board of Election Commissioners have more information on curbside voting, other accommodations and accessibility tools on their website.

Extra info and resources

If you have any questions on Election Day, you can call Election Protection at 866-OUR-VOTE or Election Center at 1–312–269–7870 (or TTY 1–312–269–0027 for hearing impaired folks only).

If you have any questions before Election Day, you can email the Chicago Board of Elections at cboe@chicagoelections.net, or call 1–312–269–7858 (TTY 1–312–269–0027, again only for hearing impaired folks).

Who put this thing together?

Louisa Richardson-Deppe is into civic engagement and care networks. The March 17th primary election will be her fourth time serving as an CBOE Election Coordinator. When it’s not Election Day, Louisa spends her time leading community engagement projects at NowPow, volunteering with Chicago Abortion Fund and Chicago Votes, swimming in Lake Michigan, and reading on the CTA.

Ellie Mejía draws (for a few different folks) and works for City Bureau. Off the clock, Ellie likes to eat fruit and visit the geese at Palmisano Park.

Thanks to Alex Boutros and the Chicago Votes team for reviewing this guide before publication.

We want to hear from you! Please feel free to share any questions, comments, or feedback on this guide online at: https://bit.ly/38yPA1x.