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Opinion

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Mail-in voting not the only way to participate by Nov. 3

The statement date says July 30, but the medical bill sent via first-class mail didn’t arrive at our house — only about five miles due west of the office — until Aug. 8. 

That bill is sitting just to the right of my computer atop another envelope, the one holding an application for a vote-by-mail ballot I didn’t request. It’s unclear how many days it took that dispatch to traverse the 11 miles from the county clerk’s office, but given the ongoing national discourse about the condition of the U.S. Postal Service, here’s guessing it wasn’t next-day delivery.

Earlier this summer I advocated for voting by mail as both the safest way to participate in the November election as well as a means of being an informed voter, since you can mull over your options for days and weeks instead of the fleeting moments inside a polling place. With widespread reporting about service delays and reductions comes new concern about making sure every ballot is counted.

Many county clerk’s offices have excellent resources on their websites, and the letters included with the mail-in applications also are informative. Some highlights:

Any request for a mail-in ballot is due by 5 p.m. Oct. 29. Mail-in voting begins Sept. 24. Ballots must be returned in person by 7 p.m. Election Day (Nov. 3) or have a postmark no later than that day.

Mail isn’t the only way to vote while avoiding the polling place. Early voting also begins Sept. 24 and runs through Nov. 2 at county clerk’s offices, and many counties have additional early voting sites from Oct. 19 through Nov. 1. This is more like the traditional Election Day experience, but likely with far fewer people in line.

If you request a mail-in ballot but choose to vote in person, bring the mail ballot and surrender it at the early voting site or polling place. If you got an application but don’t want a mail-in ballot, just shred and discard the form. Change your mind later? Complete the application form online.

Mailed-in ballots go to a bipartisan election judge panel to review and compare signatures against the most recent registration file. If there’s no match, the county sends a rejection letter with instructions for proceeding.

Not registered? Do that by Oct. 6 in person or via mail, or online by Oct. 18. After that, you can still vote through grace period registration until Nov. 2 or in person Nov. 3 at your home precinct polling place. Contact your county clerk for their specific policies.

I won’t tell anyone how to vote, but I urge everyone to participate. Plan now, execute later. Be safe, be smart and be an involved citizen.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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