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A three-step guide to voting by mail in Chicago

There's still time to vote by mail—here's how to request and send in your ballot.

By
Emma Krupp
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Believe it or not, we're just one month shy of Election Day on Tuesday, November 3—have you made a plan to vote yet? This year more than ever, you have options when it comes to casting your ballot. Concerns over crowding and COVID-19 safety on Election Day have led many officials to endorse options like early and mail-in voting, and lots of folks followed suit: As of late September, nearly two million Illinois voters have requested mail-in ballots, a new record for the state. If you'd like to join the ranks of mail-in voters, here's a (relatively) simple three-step guide.

1. Apply

In order to have a ballot mailed to your residence, you'll first need to fill out an application. Chicago residents can apply directly through the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners website, where you can either fill out the form online or print a downloadable copy and mail it to the Chicago Board of Elections office. If you apply online, you'll receive email correspondence with updates about everything from when your ballot has been mailed to your address to when it has been received and counted. Ballot requests must be made by October 29 at the absolute latest, but do it earlier if you can (this is important: we'll discuss more on that point in step 3).

Note that you'll need to be registered to vote in order to apply for mail-in voting. You can do so online via the state board of elections website until Sunday, October 18. If you miss this deadline, don't panic: You won't be able to vote by mail, but you can still opt to register in person at early voting sites or at your precinct polling place on Election Day. Unsure if you're registered? You can look up your registration status here.

2. Do your research

While you wait for your ballot, take some time to think about how you'd like to fill it out! There are tons of handy resources available to guide you through that process. Start by heading back to the Chicago Board of Elections website, where you can input your address to review a sample ballot that will show you a full list of candidates, proposals and referendums up for a vote this cycle (if you include your last name, you can also check the status of your vote-by-mail application through this search).

From there, it may be helpful to check out voting guides to get a feel for each candidate, particularly for down-ballot races. The Chicago-based voting resource website BallotReady aggregates comprehensive info on each candidate—from their signature issues to social media pages—that you'll encounter on your ballot based on your address. Beyond that, WTTW has a video guide that covers the Illinois senate and congressional races in addition to a variety of Cook County positions; in it, candidates are given two minutes to explain their platforms. You can find a similar resource on the Chicago Sun-Times website, which includes candidate questionnaire responses and editorial board endorsements. The nonprofit news site Injustice Watch also produces a comprehensive guide dedicated to judicial candidates; you can sign up to receive their newsletters in your email inbox here (the guide goes live on October 6).

3. Fill the ballot out and send it in

All set and ready to vote? Marking the ballot itself, of course, is easy—just be sure to use a black or blue ballpoint/felt-tip pen to fill in your selections. Don't use a red ink pen, which can't be read by ballot scanners. Once you've finished filling out the ballot, stick it inside the prepaid envelope you received; remember to sign and certify the ballot envelope. 

The signed and sealed ballot envelope can be sent in one of three ways: First, you can mail it via the United States Postal Service (USPS) or a licensed courier; second, you can personally deliver it to the Election Board at the sixth floor of 69 W Washington St; or third (and new for the 2020 election), you can deposit it at a number of drop box sites throughout the city beginning as soon as October 1.

Concerned about USPS delivery delays? Per Illinois law, any ballot that is postmarked no later than Election Day—and received by the election authority no more than 14 days after Election Day—will be counted. Even so, it's highly, *highly* recommended that you request and mail in your ballot ASAP instead of pushing it off to the October 29 request deadline, which allows for just a few days' turnaround for you to both receive and mail out the ballot on time. For its part, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners advises using a drop box, particularly during the two weeks leading up to Election Day.

That's it! And if for some reason mail-in voting doesn't work out for you, remember that you can still avoid crowds on Election Day by casting your vote at a number of early voting sites

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