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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for Illinois Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: August 21, 2020
Published: August 21, 2020

This is part of the Brennan Center’s Toolkits for Activists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Political Context  |  What’s in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Administering an election under pandemic conditions requires undertaking steps to keep voting accessible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the problems Covid-19 poses, what preparedness measures Illinois has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some political context for your advocacy.

Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local officials have a lot of responsibility over elections. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state officials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we highlight some examples of changes that local elections officials can also make with this symbol:🔸

Political Context

Below is a list of the relevant officials and information about the legislative session.

Governor: J.B. Pritzker (D)  

Chief Elections Official(s): Illinois State Board of Elections

Legislature: House (D) Senate (D)

Legislative Session: The legislature last adjourned on May 23, 2020. Either the legislature or the governor can call a special legislative session.

Local Elections Officials: In Illinois, a number of local officials share responsibilities for administering elections. You can look up individual local officials here.

What Illinois Has and What’s Needed

Three priorities. There are three key areas where we need to shore up our elections systems for success during a pandemic: registration, mail voting, and in-person voting.


Covid-19 may disrupt the traditional ways Americans register to vote, like get out the vote drives or registering at government agencies. In the crucial weeks before the registration deadline, postal service disruptions may lead many registration forms to arrive at election offices after the deadline.

Preparatory Measures Illinois Already Has Taken:

  • Online voter registration
  • Election Day voter registration

Changes Still Needed:

  • Prepare to extend online and mail voter registration deadlines based on conditions in the state

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previous elections. Allowing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Election Day and decreases the exposure risk to Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures Illinois Already Has Taken:

  • All voters can vote by mail without an excuse
  • Will send mail-ballot applications to registered voters who:
    • registered to vote or changed their registration addresses between March 17 and July 31, 2020
    • applied to vote, either by mail or in person, at any of the following three recent elections: 2018 General Election, 2019 Consolidated Election, 2020 General Primary Election
  • Online tool for requesting a vote-by-mail ballot in most counties
    • State law allows for it, but not all counties have it
  • No notary or witness requirement for return of mail ballot
  • No ID requirement to vote by mail
  • Accepts late-arriving ballots postmarked by Election Day
  • Provides post-election notice and cure opportunity for defects on absentee-ballot envelope, including signature mismatch or missing signatures

Changes Still Needed:

  • Statewide online tool for requesting a vote-by-mail ballot
  • Provide pre-paid postage for voting by mail
  • Send absentee-ballot applications to all voters who have not yet applied

In-Person Voting

Even with expanded mail voting opportunity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disenfranchise voters without Internet and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accordance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures Illinois Already Has Taken:

  • In-person early voting
  • Vote centers on election day

Changes Still Needed:

  • Ensure sufficient polling places are open and resourced on Election Day🔸
  • Open more in-person early voting locations🔸
  • Take proper public health precautions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold training sessions for polling-place workers well in advance of Election Day, so that election officials can better anticipate problems with staffing and logistics🔸
  • Increase access to curbside voting at polling locations🔸

Advocacy Focus: Protecting Polling Places

No matter how prepared Illinois is as a matter of policy, elections officials and advocates must stay vigilant about ensuring safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for everyone all the way through Election Day. Here are some important things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in Illinois and what rules govern the process:

  • Ballot drop boxes and curbside voting are authorized by law for the 2020 election.🔸
  • No later than 75 days prior to the election, each election authority shall provide public notice of its services and equipment available to assist elderly voters and voters with disabilities.🔸

Key Dates for Illinois Elections

  • October 6, 2020: Deadline to register by mail for the General Election
  • October 18, 2020: Deadline to register online for the General Election
  • November 3, 2020: General Election Day