The basics of voting, especially by mail

What to do, what you'll need, and who to contact

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By Michael Romain


The Nov. 3 Presidential Election will be an unprecedented election in U.S. history, with many people forced to rely on mail-in voting to cast their ballots just as the U.S. Postal Service is being pushed into a state of disarray by the Trump administration. Here is some basic information about voting by mail that may ease some of those concerns:

How do I register to vote? 

You can register to vote online, in person or through the mail. The deadline for online registration is Oct. 18. The deadline for registering by mail is Oct. 6. You can also register to vote on Election Day, Nov. 3, but only at your home precinct, which is the place where you are assigned to vote based on your residency.  

For more about registering and the qualifications for voting, visit the Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners' website here.  You can also call (312) 269-7936. 

But what about voting by mail?

You can register to vote by mail by going online to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners website here

The deadline for registering to vote by mail is 5 p.m. on Oct. 29. Applications musts be submitted in person, by mail, email or fax. The election board explains that while Oct. 29 is the legal deadline to apply, "votes who apply by Sept. 24 will be the first to receive ballots when mailings begin in late September and early October." 

For more info about voting by mail or to apply for a mail ballot, click here. You can also call (312) 269-7967. 

What if I'm anxious about mailing my ballot? 

You actually don't have to put your ballot in the mail if you don't want to. Those who applied for mail ballots will start receiving them by Sept. 24, according to the elections board. You'll get a postage-paid return envelope if you want to mail the ballot and the board is urging voters to do that as early as possible once they receive their ballots. 

But if you want to avoid the mail, you can take your ballot to a Secured Drop Box that will be located inside every early voting site in Chicago. 

"If you could not apply for a mail ballot by the Oct. 29 deadline, OR if you applied and did not receive your mail ballot, or if you lose the ballot, or if you cannot return the ballot with a postmark on or before Election Day, call 312-269-7967 on or before Thurs., Oct. 29 to alert us that you have not received your ballot; or use early voting through Tue., Nov. 3; or cancel your mail ballot and receive and cast an Election Day ballot at the polling place assigned to your precinct on Tues., Nov. 3," the elections board explains.

"If the voter has the mail ballot, that ballot should be surrendered to the election judges. If the voter does not have the mail ballot, the voter may cast a provisional ballot after completing a provisional-ballot affidavit. For more info, click here

When, if ever, will I need ID?

You only need an Illinois driver's license or a state ID to register online or in person before Election Day. In order to register to vote in person on Election Day, you need two pieces of ID, one of which must show your current address.

You may be asked to show ID if an Election Judge challenges your right to vote (i.e., if you're voting at a precinct on Election Day that is different from your home precinct). But even if you can't show ID at that exact moment, you can still cast what's called a Provisional Ballot, which is a ballot that doesn't get counted until you prove your eligibility. For more info on when you need ID and when you don't, click here.  

What's the difference between a mail ballot and an absentee ballot? 

An absentee ballot is a mail ballot cast by someone who can't vote in person. In Illinois, there's functionally no difference between the two.

I went to prison. Can I vote?

Yes, if you're a formerly incarcerated individual, you can vote in Illinois. You can also vote from jail while you're awaiting trial, since you haven't been convicted of a crime.

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