The House on May 21 passed Senate Bill 1863 by a vote of 72–43; the measure cleared the Senate on May 22 by 37–19. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, is expected to sign the legislation.
The bill makes sweeping changes to how voters will go to the polls in November, with the biggest change being an expansion of mail-in voting. With the expansion, anyone who voted in 2018, 2019, and 2020, or people who previously registered to vote by mail, will be sent a vote-by-mail application, local outlet WICS/WRSP reported.
Around 5 million Illinoisans will receive a vote-by-mail application, the report said.
The drive to expand mail balloting options amid the pandemic has emerged as the centerpiece of a growing political fight ahead of November’s election. Broadly, President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers have challenged the idea of expanding vote-by-mail, arguing that it’s vulnerable to fraud.
Democrats and voting rights groups say it’s a way to protect voters from the virus. They say a failure to guarantee that option amid a pandemic will disenfranchise millions of Americans.
Pritzker told the Belleview News-Democrat he would have preferred that a vote-by-mail application to be sent to every eligible voter in the state, but said the bill is “a reasonable compromise.”
State Rep. Kelly Burke, a Democrat and the bill’s chief sponsor in the House, said the legislation would “balance public health concerns with robust participation in elections.”
“It will make vote-by-mail more user-friendly, efficient, secure and accessible,” Burke told the full House chamber, which convened at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield, instead of its chamber in the Illinois Capitol building, to ensure more effective social distancing amid the pandemic, the Capitol News Illinois reported.
House Republicans opposed the bill, with state Rep. Ryan Spain warning of the risk of voter fraud.
“My concern isn’t how those ballots become postmarked, but the opportunity for ballot stuffing that can take place unsupervised after hours by political operatives,” Spain said, according to WICS/WRSP.
Spain and his Republican colleague state Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst expressed fears that unscrupulous campaign workers will harvest ballots and try to improperly influence the election.
“There’s not enough checks and balances, there’s not enough security, there’s not enough integrity to this ballot-harvesting drop-box system,” Parkhurst said, according to the Belleville News-Democrat.
“No one knows what this pandemic is going to be looking like in November,” said St. Clair County Clerk Thomas Holbrook, who supports the plan on grounds that it cuts down on the risk of infection for election judges and voters, the Belleville News-Democrat reported.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has long raised the alarm about the dangers of mail-in ballot fraud.
“Absentee ballots are the tools of choice of election fraudsters because they are voted outside the supervision of election officials, making it easier to steal, forge, or alter them, as well as to intimidate voters,” Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans A. von Spakovsky wrote in an op-ed.
While the Heritage Foundation’s own database of all reported instances of election fraud, dating back to 1979, lists only 1,277 “proven instances of voter fraud,” the organization’s communications manager told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that “the database is only intended to represent a small sampling of the types of voter fraud that can occur—it is by no means a comprehensive report of all the voter fraud that happens around the country.”