Illinois Leads: Strengthening Voting Rights Under Siege Across the Country

By Barbara Altman

While Republican-controlled states across the country are passing legislation to make it more difficult to vote, Illinois’ Democratic legislature and governor have just done just the opposite.

On June 15, Governor JB Pritzker signed into law amendments to the Illinois Election Code designed to make it easier for all those eligible to vote to exercise this precious constitutional right.

Some provisions of the 2021 legislation have been well-publicized. You probably know that Election Day in 2022 – November 8th – will be a State holiday and that schools will be closed that day. The legislation further requires that these schools be available for use as Election Day polling places.

Public schools are in many ways ideal venues for polling places – many are in residential neighborhoods, people generally know where their local schools are, parking is usually adequate, and there is often ample space in gymnasiums.

Designating Election Day a State holiday also should make it easier for working people to get to the polls and for any parent to bring a school-age child along while they vote – a valuable civics lesson. Note that this particular change in the Election Code applies only to 2022.

Polling Place Confusion Eased

In addition to freeing up public schools for use as polling places, the new election law requires each election authority to offer at least one polling place on Election Day where any registered voter, regardless of precinct, can go to vote.

This provision eliminates the confusion many voters experience on Election Day when they learn that their assigned polling place has changed or that their recent move within the county has caused them to be assigned to a new polling place.

If they’re unsure where to go, there will be one place any registered voter can go on Election Day. Contrast this provision with the Republican change to Georgia’s election law that prohibits – except in limited circumstances – counting ballots cast in other than the voter’s assigned polling place. Texas Republicans are considering an even more stringent prohibition on counting ballots cast in the wrong polling place.

Schools Must Inform Students About Voting

What about expanding voter registration? Illinois’ new law requires every high school in the state to disseminate information to its students about how to register to vote, and “[n]o high school may prohibit nonpartisan voter registration activities on its premises,” the law states.

Drop Boxes Are Back

Mail-in voting also has been made easier. Our General Assembly and Governor made permanent the authority to establish drop boxes for the return of mail-in ballots.

That legislation also required that mailed ballots be accepted, regardless of the amount of postage the voter put on (or left off) the envelope.

Our own State Senator Julie Morrison was the chief Senate sponsor of this significant legislation.

Permanent Vote-by-Mail Option

Now, with the newest legislation, Illinois voters will have the option to apply for “permanent vote by mail status.” That is, you can ask to be sent a mail-in ballot for every election, without having to request it each time. You can cancel this ongoing request any time, and if a voter changes their registration, their permanent vote by mail status would be rescinded by the election authority.

Primary, Other Key 2022 Dates Moved

Because the 2020 Census was not completed on time, the new legislation rescheduled the 2022 primaries for much later in the year than usual, with dates for circulating and submitting nominating petitions adjusted accordingly.

Primary Election Day will be June 28, 2022; the first date for circulating petitions will be January 13, 2022; and petitions will be due in March of 2022.


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