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Illinois: What You Need to Know to Make Sure Your Vote Counts This November

What you need to know, including key deadlines, registration details, and how to vote by mail.

Grace Han/Thrillist

2020 has provided its fair share of chaos -- we won't even get into the specifics here. But if anything, the misfortune of our year should only be pushing you to the polls. With the 2020 Election on November 3 fast approaching, now's the time to take the necessary steps to ensure you can vote and vote effectively

Illinois makes voting easier than many states with several avenues for casting your ballot. In fact, in some counties, early voting has already commenced. You can go to the polls on Election Day or opt for the absentee route. Chose your own method, just vote. Here's everything you need to know. 

What's the deadline to register to vote in Illinois?

You've got three options for voter registration in Illinois: online, by mail, or in person. If you're going in person, you'll have until Election Day to register, but online registration must be completed by October 18. Mail-in registration must be postmarked by October 6

How to register to vote in Illinois

To register, you've gotta first make sure you're eligible. Illinois requires the following criteria: You must be a citizen of the United States and resident of the state and your election precinct at least 30 days before November 3. Voters must be 18 years-old on or before Election Day and may not be in jail for a felony conviction -- though, if you have completed your sentence, you are free to cast your ballot. You cannot claim the right to vote anywhere else, either.

  • Online: Registering online is both the easiest and safest route to go (Reminder: We're still in the middle of a pandemic).  
  • By mail: Once you print and fill out the National Voter Registration Form, you'll sign and send it out to your local election authority. Find yours here.
  • In person: You are free to register in person at your local election office, permanent polling place, an early voting site, polling places on election date, and any other destination designated by your election authority.

Can I vote early? When does early voting start in Illinois?

Yes! Early voting is open between September 24 and November 2, though the dates and hours vary by county. In person early voting requests must be received by November 2. Also note that early voting in your area might not take place at your usual Election Day polling place, so double check the early voting location near you before you head out.

Can I vote by mail? 

Also, yes. Illinois allows all registered voters to do so via absentee ballot without an excuse. 

How to request an absentee ballot in Illinois

Fill out an application and drop it off or mail it to your county elections office. But you'll need to refer to your specific county for the correct forms. All ballot requests must be received by the election authority by October 29. 

How to vote absentee by mail in Illinois

Once your application has been processed and approved, you'll receive an absentee ballot in the mail. You'll fill it out according to the instructions and return it to your local election authority. It's that simple. Ballots should be signed and postmarked no later than November 3. 

You can also return your voted ballot via convenient secure mail ballot drop boxes, which you can find here.

Is there a way to track my absentee ballot? How can I make sure it's counted?

Your county may offer a way to check the status of your absentee ballot. Contact your county clerk's office for more info.

Otherwise, it's a matter of following the instructions and meeting the deadlines. It's also a good idea to avoid tearing or otherwise damaging your absentee ballot materials so that it's not thrown out on some sort of technicality. 

How can I stay safe while voting in person?

Polling places are open statewide from 6am to 7pm. Use the state's handy lookup tool to find your polling location.

While voting by mail is likely the safest way to participate in this election, there are ways you can reduce the risk of getting COVID-19 if you plan to vote in person at your local polling place. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has issued safety recommendations for voters.

Here's a rundown of what the CDC recommends, per its election guidance page:

  • Wear a mask. 
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from others at all times.
  • Wash your hands both before and after leaving your polling location.
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol frequently throughout your time inside the polling place, especially after you touch things like door hands, voting machines, and other surfaces that lots of other people touch.
  • If you cough or sneeze, cover them with a tissue or the inside of your elbow. Dispose of the tissues in a lined garbage can, then use that 60% alcohol hand sanitizer again. 
  • Don't try to disinfect the voting machine or equipment yourself because you may end up damaging them with cleaners and disinfectant products. This is where hand sanitizer comes in again. Use it right after you touch the voting equipment, and if you use it before you touch the equipment, make sure your hands have dried first.
  • Try to vote when your polling place isn't as busy. This might involve driving by and checking to see how long the line is.
  • Verify that you're registered to vote before you leave home and make sure you bring any documents you'll need to avoid complications that could result in spending more time inside the polling place.
  • Bring your own black ink pen for marking your ballot, or your own stylus (just check with a polling place worker before you use it).
  • If possible, fill out a sample ballot at home that you can use to speed up casting your ballot at the polling location.

Additional Illinois voter resources: 

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Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.