Illinois House advances major expansion of mail-in voting
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Illinois House advances major expansion of mail-in voting

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Virus Outbreak Illinois Legislature

The Illinois House of Representatives conducts their spring legislative session Thursday at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield. The venue affords more space than their usual chambers for legislators to practice social distancing. 

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House approved on Thursday evening an expansion of voting by mail for the fall election, using federal pandemic-relief funds, despite Republican criticism that it would take a financial bite out of county budgets and could increase errors and electoral fraud.

Rep. Kelly Burke's proposal was adopted 72-43. It would encourage mail-in ballots by sending applications to anyone who voted by mail in 2018, 2019 or in this year's primary. The Evergreen Park Democrat said it would provide a simpler and safer way to vote during the COVID-19 outbreak.

It's a one-time thing, applying only to the November 3 election. But if successful, it would help Democrats push the idea into future years.

Invitations to apply for vote-by-mail would be sent by county clerks and other election authorities.

"The intent is to make sure that they've got funding to implement some of these things and make voting easier and safer for all the residents," Burke said.

The cost was not immediately known.

Republicans generally oppose these types of initiatives, citing concerns that making voter registration and casting ballots easier can increase the chance for fraud or errors, as has been the case with automatic voter registration. Democrats say Republicans oppose the idea because it could lead to more liberal-leaning voters. 

Republican Rep. Ryan Spain of Peoria calls it a "chase" program because state government is pursuing voters and pushing them to sign up.

President Donald Trump opposes the idea and recently has threatened to withhold federal funds from Michigan after vote-by-mail was expanded there.

The program would be widely publicized. It would be advertised on the Illinois State Board of Election's on-line voting registration site. Newly registered voters would be required to be told. The Secretary of State would explain the program in mailings already required to distribute information about constitutional amendments on the ballot.

And those past mail-in voters who don't respond to initial invitations to sign up again would be sent reminders in September and October.

A school holiday would be declared on Election Day so that schools could safely be used as polling places.

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