Voters confused by Secretary of State letter, local election commissions say office’s data is behind

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CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — The Peoria County Election Commission is looking to clear up some confusion.

Recently, voters received a letter from Secretary of State Jesse White’s office encouraging people to vote by mail.

“We started getting calls from the letter that the Secretary of State had sent out,” Executive Director at the Peoria County Election Commission Thomas Bride said. “On Sept. 15 to send out a reminder/notice, hey you can still vote by mail. They were using a list that was generated at the end of August. They’re also going to send out another letter on Oct. 15.”

Some people who received the letter had already voted by mail. Others don’t want to vote by mail at all.

Bride said this does not show the commission has lost your mail-in ballot application, but instead, it was because the data the Secretary of State’s Office had was two weeks late.

“People that have requested vote-by-mail after the data we sent in, there’s a lag period there, they’ve gotten a letter saying ‘We’ve been notified by your local election authority that you haven’t requested your vote-by-mail ballot’ We started getting calls by people saying “hey, i requested one, did you get it?” Bride said.

Bride said vote-by-mail ballots in Peoria County will start to be sent out next Thursday, Sept. 24. That’s the same day early voting starts. He said the commission in Peoria County has already received over 26,000 vote-by-mail ballot applications.

“The legislation that was passed this summer to encourage vote-by-mail required us to send out a vote-by-mail application to anyone who had voted since 2018 and the first of August. Then we had to send data to the State Board of Elections by the end of August who had requested out of that group so far,” Bride said.

McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael and Bloomington Election Commission Executive Director Tim Mitchell responded to similar questions by McLean County voters in the following letter:

Over the past few days, many McLean County and City of Bloomington voters have received a letter from Secretary of State Jesse White’s office alerting them that they have not applied for a Vote by Mail ballot, and they should contact our office to complete their application. These letters have been sent to voters throughout Illinois from the Secretary of State’s office. These letters were not sent by our offices. Furthermore we were not informed of the content of the letter nor contacted to provide input.

Letter from Kathy Michael/Tim Mitchell

The letters were part of the mandate of SB 1863, the election bill passed by the state legislature in May as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It requires election authorities, such as the McLean County Clerk, to send a mail ballot application to every voter who has voted in any of the past three elections. The law also stipulates that the Secretary of State shall send, by Sept. 15, 2020, a notice to any voter in Illinois who received an application for a vote by mail ballot but according to State Board of Elections records has not yet applied for a vote by mail ballot.

Letter from Kathy Michael/Tim Mitchell

“However, the notices do not accurately reflect the current status of Vote by Mail applications our offices have received from McLean County and City of Bloomington voters. Many voters who have applied for mail ballots, as well as voters who have no interest in voting by mail, have received these letters,” the letter continued.

We assure those who have applied for ballots to be mailed that our offices have been processing your applications, and vote by vail ballots will be sent to voters who have requested them beginning September 24 and should start arriving in homes the following week. Voters will receive confirmation that your ballot has been received. Several Early Voting opportunities and Election Day polling places will be available as always to any voters who prefer to utilize those options.  All polling locations are scheduled to be open for in person voting on Election Day.  Please check our websites for all election information. Early voting begins this coming Thursday, September 24 at our new location the Grossinger Motors Arena, downtown Bloomington from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm.

Kathy Michael/Tim Mitchell letter

Bride added the election commissions always receive calls from people simply because they’re annoyed from getting mail.

“We always get that third group of calls that people were just upset about getting mail and not wanting anything to do with this. But we get those no matter mail goes out,” Bride said.

Bride said vote-by-mail voting is nothing new in the state.

“We’ve been doing no-excuse vote by mail in Illinois for ten years. This isn’t new to us, we had 6,500 in Peoria County that voted by mail the last presidential election. We had 10,000 votes in 2018. In 2016, about 20% of the country voted by mail. It may be new to a lot of our voters, but not new to us,” Bride said.

Bride said election officials are expecting around 74,000 people to vote in November’s presidential election. He said he believes around 35,000 will choose vote-by-mail.

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