FILE - Illinois, mail-in ballot drop box, Election 2020 Mail In Ballots

University of Illinois students Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, walk past a mail-in ballot drop box that sits on the northwest corner of the university's Quad in Urbana, Ill. The new drop box option was authorized as part of a new state law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in June to expand early voting options and help reduce the number of people who would otherwise vote in person in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

(The Center Square) – More than 3.5 million people have already voted in Illinois before the polls open Tuesday and there could be hundreds of thousands of mail-in votes coming when the polls close.

There are more than 8.3 million registered voters in Illinois, up from about 8 million in the 2016 General Election. The latest report Monday afternoon from the Illinois State Board of Elections showed 1,785,747 people voted at a designated early voting location and 1,759,245 mail-in ballots have already been returned.

A total of 3,544,992 votes had already been cast in Illinois with a 42.6 percent turnout before the polls officially opened Tuesday morning. That approaches total voter turnout in non-presidential years, like in the 2014 General Election where there was around 50 percent overall turnout. The 2018 turnout was more than 57 percent. The 2016 presidential General Election turnout in Illinois was 70.56 percent.  

Early vote options were expanded several years ago. Mail-in voting was expanded this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray said local polling places will be open, and despite nearly the entire state having COVID-19 mitigations in place, voters should have confidence it’s safe.

“Because our health professions are [confident],” Gray said. “Our leaders are comfortable, even within the rollback of the mitigations, polling places were exempted from those mitigations because we’ve been paying attention and preparing for it since March.”

But, even after the polls close Tuesday, there still could be some big unknowns. Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said there could be at least 400,000 mail-in ballots that have yet to be received.

Local authorities have until Nov. 17th to count those, as long as the mail-in ballot is postmarked Nov. 3.

Dietrich acknowledged not every outstanding ballot mailed out will be returned and converted to a vote.

“But when you have that kind of volume out there it does stand to reason that a significant number will arrive and will be voted after election day,” Dietrich said.

The latest report Monday showed 586,709 mail-in ballots that have yet to be received statewide. Another report of outstanding vote-by-mail ballots that haven’t been received will be published sometime Tuesday.

“We won’t have the number for all the ballots cast until every vote-by-mail ballot is tabulated and every provisional ballot is tabulated by Nov. 17,” Dietrich said.

At the close of election day, it’s possible there are still several hundred thousand ballots in transit. That could impact the outcome of statewide races, like the income tax change or U.S. Senate.

Gray doesn’t foresee many problems locally.

“Any real close elections, and we’re talking really close elections, here locally certainly they’re going to be unresolved for at least a two-week process,” Gray said.

The polls close at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Nov. 17 is the day all of the state's 108 local election authorities have to complete counting. They're required to transmit the totals to ISBE by Nov. 24. The state elections board then meets on Dec. 4 to certify the vote. 

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.