Anticipating “the most logistically challenging election of our lifetimes,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday asked state election officials to redirect at least $4 million in federal funding to expand the availability of mail-in ballot drop boxes and to assist with recruiting election judges.
“This election cycle, where the presidential contest may not be decided on election night while vote by mail ballots are tabulated, will test the limits of our democracy and the faith of our people in it,” Pritzker wrote in a letter to State Board of Elections Executive Director Steve Sandvoss. “These unprecedented times require unprecedented involvement and action by the State Board of Elections.”
The $4 million would come from the $27.1 million the elections board received in federal election security grants through the Help America Vote Act for 2018 and 2020. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission has issued guidance authorizing such uses.
Pritzker signed a law in June that aims to expand voting by mail for the November election to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 at crowded polling places. One provision allows local election authorities to set up secure collection sites for people who don’t want to send their ballots through the U.S. mail.
However, citing a recent survey by the elections board, Pritzker said only half of the state’s 108 local election authorities plan to offer ballot drop boxes. And 60 of the local jurisdictions report they are having trouble recruiting enough election judges to work the polls Nov. 3.
The governor is asking the board to set up an emergency grant program to address these and other concerns in the run-up to Election Day.
“If we do not immediately provide the resources through direct grants and the promise of reimbursement to local election authorities, it will soon be too late,” Pritzker wrote. “Drop boxes, especially those secured in public places, take time to order and install. Election judges take time to recruit. Postal delays or polling places that are unable to open due to a lack of election judges have the potential to disenfranchise voters.”
The State Board of Elections is an independent agency whose members are appointed by the governor. Spokesman Matt Dietrich said the board will consider Pritzker’s request at its Monday meeting.
In the early days of the pandemic, Pritzker faced criticism, including from local election authorities in Chicago, for allowing in-person voting to proceed for the March 17 primary. The governor’s office argued that he had no authority to unilaterally postpone the voting.
As a result of the legislation Pritzker signed in June, vote-by-mail applications are being sent to everyone who voted in either the 2018 general election, the 2019 municipal election or this year’s March 17 primary, as well as to voters who registered or changed their address since the primary.
As of Tuesday, nearly 1.6 million voters had applied to receive a mail-in ballot.
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