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Senate approves expanded voting-by-mail bill for Nov. 3 election, which now heads to the governor

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 3 days ago By Jamie Munks and Dan Petrella, Chicago Tribune

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The Illinois Senate voted along party lines Friday to approve a measure aimed at expanding voting by mail in November amid ongoing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure, which was approved by the House on Thursday, would create an enhanced vote-by-mail plan for the Nov. 3 general election. The Senate approved the bill on a 37-19 vote, with all Republican members in opposition.

It is now headed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has said he’ll sign it.

The legislation would have vote-by-mail applications sent to everyone who voted in either the 2018 general election, the 2019 municipal election or this year’s March 17 primary, as well as to voters newly registered since the primary or who changed their addresses.

It would also make the day of the election, Nov. 3, a government and school holiday so schools can be used as polling places without risks to students and teachers.

The measure’s Senate sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Julie Morrison of Lake Forest, said the bill is an example of the state fulfilling its responsibility to plan and prepare during the pandemic, something that wasn’t possible for the March primary.

In response to criticism from Senate Republicans in a committee hearing a day earlier, Morrison introduced a companion bill that would require ballot dropboxes set up by election authorities to be secure, and would make it easier for a three-person panel of election judges to reject mail-in ballots that lack signatures.

The changes weren’t enough to win support from any GOP senators, all of whom voted against the companion bill, which also was approved 37-19. Morrison said House sponsor Rep. Kelly Burke, an Evergreen Park Democrat, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker both support the modifications.

The Senate changes now must be approved in the House before going to the governor’s desk.

Voting by mail in the coronavirus-era has been a point of partisan tension nationally, with President Donald Trump going so far as to threaten to withhold federal aid to Michigan for expanding vote-by-mail applications.

“We don’t want them to do mail-in ballots because it’s going to lead to total election fraud. So we don’t want them to do mail-in ballots. We don’t want anyone to do mail-in ballots,” Trump said Thursday before departing to a Michigan Ford assembly plant.

Trump submitted a mail-in vote to cast his ballot in the March Florida primary from the White House.

In Illinois, Republicans have opposed an expansion of the state’s already liberal vote-by-mail laws. They have contended existing law is sufficient for anyone who wants to vote by mail to get a mail-in ballot.

Sen. Steve McClure, a Springfield Republican, described the bill as “the voter fraud legalization act.”

“After this, ‘vote early and vote often’ won’t be a joke anymore because it’ll be codified into our law,” McClure said.

But Democrats countered that the legislation will ensure people are able to vote in November without fear of contracting the coronavirus.

“What’s a fraud is that people that I represent and people that you represent couldn’t vote in the primary because they felt like they would be exposed to a disease,” said Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat from Bunker Hill.

dpetrella@chicagotribune.com

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