FILE - Election 2020 Illinois Primary

A poll worker at the Su Nueva Lavanderia polling place uses rubber gloves to prepare a ballot for a voter in Chicago.

(The Center Square) – Illinoisans who cast ballots in elections since 2018 will automatically be sent an application for a vote-by-mail ballot for the November election, and it’s going to cost county clerks more to do it.

The governor signed the bill this week. He said during the COVID-19 pandemic the expanded vote-by-mail program will allow more people to exercise the right to vote from the safety of their homes.

Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray said he expects to see more vote-by-mail applications that election officials will have to process. That also increases costs. He anticipates his county will have about $250,000 in additional expenses because vote-by-mail packages are heavier and it takes more manpower and technology to process them.

“There’s a lot there, there’s a lot we’re preparing for,” Gray said. “This will be a clear change for us in how we operate but we’re certainly up for the challenge. It will be done correctly. It will be done well with a credible election result.”

Critics of the bill in the statehouse worried the measure could jeopardize the integrity of the ballot because of things like ballot drop boxes. Gray said that’s optional. He’s not going to implement that in his county because of chain-of-custody concerns.

“We want to make sure that it’s secure, and it’s done properly, and that people’s intention of it being returned directly from a third-party person is transparent and upfront and in front of the election authority,” Gray said.

The governor’s office said a trailer bill requires “collection boxes to be locked and opened only by election authorities.”

A voter must return the mail-in ballot application to get a mail-in ballot. Those must be postmarked no later than the date of the election if delivered by mail.

The Illinois State Board of Elections is required to post a vote-by-mail application to its website and to adopt rules to provide reimbursement for expenses related to the 2020 general election incurred as a result of COVD-19 requirements.

President Donald Trump has criticized expanded vote by mail, calling it an effort by Democrats to increase their votes.

Pritzker has said Trump and Republicans who oppose it are trying to limit who can vote. In his signing announcement on Tuesday, Pritzker thanked the Democratic Women’s Caucus for “working to ensure Illinoisans can continue to exercise their right to vote.”

State Sen. Jim Oberweis, R-Sugar Grove, who’s running for Congress in the November election against Democrat U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, said expanding mail-in voting makes sense. He encouraged Republicans to take full advantage of it.

“If we cede vote-by-mail to the Democrats we’re going to lose elections,” Oberweis said. “So we can either stand on some sort of theoretical principle that we like voting in person better and lose elections or we can say ‘look, here’s the deal, the system is vote-by-mail application is being sent to everybody, we better take advantage of it ourselves,’ and if we do I think we’ll do just fine.”

Oberweis was critical that lawmakers didn’t find more efficient ways to send out applications, such as sending them along with explanations of the upcoming constitutional amendment that will be sent to every registered voter.

“We would get a wider reception and I’m wondering why the Democrats are opposing this, are they trying to suppress the vote in this case,” Oberweis said. “But they wouldn't consider my proposal even though it would save taxpayers millions of dollars.”

The ACLU of Illinois applauded the measure for making the November General Election a statewide holiday.

It was also applauded by the AARP of Illinois.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.