Illinois voters who didn’t cast an early or mail-in ballot go to the polls Tuesday to wrap up a contentious political season complicated by pandemic restrictions that have forced them to largely watch from afar.
Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. with weather forecast to be unusually mild for early November, with temperatures in Chicago predicted to be near 60 degrees and nearing 70 degrees downstate.
Election Day will bring an end to the thousands of TV ads, costing tens of millions of dollars, that have aired almost incessantly since September for candidates and a major ballot issue.
But it may take some time for the votes to be counted and there’s no guarantee results will be quickly available in key races. Nor is the election likely to put to rest the ongoing potential for social discontent and violence in what has been a year of civil unrest — the combustible byproduct of a charged presidential campaign, policing incidents in Black communities and restrictions resulting from COVID-19.
Retailers in Chicago boarded up storefronts and curtailed business hours as preventive measures following instances of looting and damage in May and August. City police will increase patrols and have a plan to deploy snowplows and other heavy vehicles to protect commercial corridors and critical businesses.
In Naperville, police tweeted a statement to say they are “thoroughly prepared to address any large demonstrations, civil unrest or criminal activity that may occur in Naperville in the days, weeks or months following the election.”
Such is the backdrop for a 2020 general election topped by the race for the White House, with President Donald Trump seeking reelection against Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden.
Also on the ballot in Illinois is the state’s senior U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat, who faces challenges to a fifth term led by Republican candidate Mark Curran of Libertyville, a former three-term Lake County sheriff, and third-party candidate Willie Wilson, a Chicago businessman.
All 20 of Illinois' congressional seats are on the ballot, including two suburban districts that were flipped from longtime Republican to Democrat in the 2018 midterms.
In the west and northwest suburban 6th Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Sean Casten of Downers Grove is being challenged by Jeanne Ives, a former Republican state representative from Wheaton who lost a primary challenge to then-Gov. Bruce Rauner two years ago.
Farther west and north, in the 14th Congressional District, Democratic U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood of Naperville is being challenged by Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove.
Another closely watched race is in the central Illinois 13th Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville is seeking a fifth term against Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield. It’s a rematch from two years ago, when Davis won by 2,058 votes.
Voters also will decide winners of the 118 seats in the Illinois House and of 22 seats in the 59-member Illinois Senate. Both chambers have held Democratic supermajorities over Republicans.
Also up for voter consideration is a proposed state constitutional amendment that would allow Illinois to shift from its mandated flat-rate income tax system to a graduated-rate formula, with a tax levy that rises with income.
In Cook County, voters will be casting ballots in a state’s attorney’s race featuring first-term Democrat Kim Foxx against Republican Pat O’Brien.
There’s also the fate of Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride, who is seeking retention in a judicial district that stretches from Will, Kankakee and Grundy counties to the Mississippi River, including Peoria and the Quad Cities.
While most of the state finds itself under more stringent restrictions as cases of COVID-19 have spiked, state and local election officials have stressed that in-person voting will adhere to health and safety guidelines involving social distancing with plenty of hand sanitizer.
The March 17 primary, held just days before Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued stay-at-home orders, featured several instances of last-minute changes in polling locations and fears of a lack of poll workers, who tend to be older and more susceptible to coronavirus.
But officials took several steps to ensure a smoother Election Day experience, such as making it a government holiday, allowing the use of empty school buildings as polling places without threats to the health of voters, students or school staff.
In addition, some election officials have used federal pandemic funds to boost the pay of election judges and a new state law for this election allowed people as young as 16 to serve.
But the biggest step toward pandemic safety was a law enhancing the state’s vote-by-mail program. Millions of ballot applications were automatically sent to people who voted in the 2018 general election, 2019 municipal election or the March primary.
That prompted a record flood of requests for mail-in ballots and the law also allowed voters who filled them out to be able to deposit them in secure drop-off boxes if they had concerns over having their ballot delivered on time through the U.S. Postal Service.
As of Monday afternoon, more than 3.5 million voters had cast early ballots-either in person, at drop-off boxes or by mail—representing nearly 63% of the nearly 5.7 million ballots cast in the 2016 election.
Chicago election officials, who faced the last-minute shutdown of polling places in some private buildings due to owners' coronavirus fears in the March primary, said they expect Election Day voting and ballot counting to run smoothly.
“We feel very good about the number of judges, and that we will be able to handle the voters in a safe and secure” manner, said Marisel Hernandez, chairwoman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
But not all votes will be counted on election night. Illinois law allows election authorities to count mailed-in ballots until Nov. 17 if they are postmarked on Election Day.
In Chicago, officials said that of the more than 402,000 mail-in ballots that have been returned out of more than 505,000 applications, at least 250,000 will be tabulated on election night. That means there could still be tens of thousands of city votes to count in the days after the election.
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