The Perry County Clerk's office will mail about 7,000 applications for mail-in ballots to Perry County voters prior to the November election.
Clerk Beth Lipe said now that Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed legislation to expand absentee voting in Illinois for the presidential election, the state board of elections has directed county clerks to prepare for an increase in interest for mail-in ballots, as high as 50% of their registered voters.
In Perry County there are about 14,000 registered voters.
"We're up for the challenge," Lipe said Thursday. But she is hoping either the state board of elections or the federal government will supply money to help the county with the added expense.
"We (Perry County) are still struggling financially," Lipe said. "I can't spend the extra money. I am hoping the state board or federal government comes through and will help us pay for extra postage and extra envelopes."
There are plenty of other questions Lipe says she and the other county clerks have about the new process. Will they have to insert stamped return envelopes inside the applications when they are mailed to voters? Who will pay for the third election judge the state will require them to hire to help check the legitimacy of signatures on the mail-in ballots? Who will pay the overtime if each county has to extend their early voting hours?
For the 2020 election, county clerks will automatically send absentee ballot applications to voters who cast a ballot in the 2018 general election, the 2019 consolidated election or the 2020 general primary election, as well as to voters who registered or changed addresses after the March primary.
The new rules encouraging vote-by-mail ballots are meant to give voters options in case they would prefer not to go to the polls on Nov. 3 and risk contacting the coronavirus.
Lipe says she suspects there won't be vast numbers of Perry County people who want to vote by mail - not because they are afraid of fraud, but because people would just rather go to the polls. But a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus this fall could make absentee voting more popular, she said.
Lipe said one of the first tasks will be to combine the voter lists from those three elections so residents who voted in more than one won't get multiple absentee applications.
How it will work
When ballots arrive to voters in the mail, each one will have an individual scan code that contains the voter's name. When ballots arrive back at the clerk's office, they will be scanned and the voter's name will be registered as having voted. The envelopes, unopened, will then be saved in a locked box.
"We won't know how people voted," Lipe stressed, just who.
On election day, the absentee votes will be brought out, and a panel of three election judges will study each one, checking the voter's signature against the signature on file. Once they are approved, the ballots will be put into the counting machine and the votes registered.
Lipe said election law allows for absentee votes to continue to be counted for 14 days after the election, as long as the ballots are postmarked by Nov. 3 or earlier. That could that mean the outcome of some races might be unclear until all votes are received and counted.
Before 2020, clerk's offices had two to three days to put a ballot in the mail after receiving an absentee request. Now, the state wants a one-day turnaround.
Lipe worries less about her own office getting it done than she does about the postal service. She said in the spring primary, there were instances where absentee ballots were late - in some cases not delivered for seven or 10 days.
"It does kind of scare me," she admits.
Meanwhile, the clerk's office has been doing prep work to get ready, "but I haven't ordered 7,000 envelopes yet," Lipe said.
She would like it if the vote-by-mail applications ask for a voter's phone number, so on election day, if a signature doesn't match or another problem arises, someone can try to straighten it out with the voter.