When can Illinois expect election results? For some races, it could be weeks.

By Kelsey Landis, Belleville News-Democrat

Nov. 3 (TNS) — Illinois voters will have to adjust their expectations slightly for election night results this year.

“The big question is how many of the 2.35 million vote-by-mail ballots that have been requested are going to be returned and processed prior to election night,” said Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich. ” … (They) possibly could flow in over the next two weeks if they’re postmarked properly. That would leave a lot of questions unanswered on election night.”

While local election authorities have been processing record numbers of mail-in ballots as they’ve arrived since late September, more than 500,000 had yet to be returned statewide as of Monday afternoon.


Those ballots could take time to process on Election Day and up to two weeks after. Illinois accepts mail-in ballots as long as they’re postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by Nov. 17.

The number of outstanding ballots could have an impact on close races, such as the contentious graduated income tax constitutional amendment or competitive state House races in southwestern Illinois.

Metro-east counties reported the following percentages of ballots that had been returned, and the number of outstanding ballots:
—St. Clair: 80% (7,396)
—Madison: 81% (6,507)
—Bond: 83% (264)
—Clinton: 74% (806)
—Monroe: 88% (623)
—Randolph: 85% (443)
—Washington: 90% (145)

“You may see certain smaller races like Illinois House legislature races where the margin of victory normally is only going to be a few thousand votes,” Dietrich said. “If they’ve got five or six thousand vote-by-mail ballots they’re still waiting on, you may see leads change in those races during the days after the election.”

Election night results are always unofficial, he added. County clerks provide those as a courtesy to voters because they expect them, and are not required to do so by law. But the final count is not official until election authorities finish the final canvass and certify the results on Dec. 4.

Local election authorities shouldn’t have any trouble counting early votes quickly after the polls close Tuesday, and vote-by-mail ballots are treated the same as an early voting ballot.

When a voter casts a ballot at an early voting site, the person feeds it into a tabulator. The vote is recorded, but not counted until polls close at 7 p.m. on Election Day.


It’s the same with mail-in ballots, except when one arrives, an election judge verifies the signature on the envelope. If the signature checks out, the judge runs it through a tabulator. They record the ballot has been cast but again, no votes are counted until the polls close.

All ballots processed prior to and on Election Day can be totaled beginning at 7 p.m. St. Clair County Clerk Thomas Holbrook said those results will be available online shortly after.
It’s the ones that haven’t arrived that could slow results.

Madison County Clerk Debra Ming-Mendoza said her county has seen three times the number of vote-by-mail ballots this year compared to 2018, the previous record-setting year. As of Monday afternoon, the county was still awaiting more than 6,500 mail-in ballots. More than 1,100 voters returned their ballots over the weekend.

“It could potentially be a week and a half before I could honestly say, after canvass, ‘Here are the winners,'” Ming-Mendoza said.

Dietrich says he believes most vote-by-mail ballots will have been returned by around five days after the election.

Which race results could be delayed?

Voters could be waiting for days on results for a number of close races in Illinois.

The 13th Congressional District rematch between Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan is considered a toss-up by political analysts. Rodney won the district that covers a swath of central Illinois down to Edwardsville by just one point in 2018, and it’s expected to be close again this year.

The state legislative race between state Rep. Monica Bristow, D-Alton, and Republican challenger Amy Elik in the 111th District could be a close call, as could the 116th District contest between state Rep. Nathan Reitz, D-Steelleville, and Republican nominee Davis Friess.

But the most uncertainty surrounds the outcome of the graduated income tax constitutional amendment.

The ballot proposal, which supporters call a “fair tax,” would allow the General Assembly to remove the mandated 4.95% flat tax from the state constitution and replace it with a graduated system that would increase taxes incrementally on those who earn $250,000 or more annually.

Passage requires 60% approval from those who vote on the issue or a simple majority of all ballots cast. Election officials won’t know how many total ballots were cast until the last vote is counted on Nov. 17.

That will make for a tricky equation on election night. If the number of outstanding ballots exceeds the margin between yes and no votes, election trackers such as the Associated Press probably won’t be calling it, Dietrich said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker urged patience among Illinois voters.

“Counting votes that arrive by mail is time-consuming work for our county clerks and their staffs. With vote-by-mail hitting all-time records, that means that we have to be patient about the results of all races this year,” Pritzker said Thursday at a news briefing in Chicago.

The governor added that the risk of misinformation is particularly high this year with the threat of interference from “foreign actors” in Russia and Iran. Pritzker urged Illinoisans to find accurate information from local election authorities and reliable news outlets, not from social media.

Returning a vote-by-mail ballot in Illinois

You may mail it back, but the United States Postal Service recommended that ballots returned through the mail should have been sent by Oct. 27.

Concerns about cost-cutting at the postal service and an influx of mail may make delivering your ballot directly a more reliable option.

If you haven’t returned your vote-by-mail ballot yet, you can by drop it off at a secure dropbox location or at your local election authority’s office before the polls close at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3.

You may also surrender your ballot to an election judge at your polling place. They will then void your ballot and allow you to vote.

The BND has compiled a Voter Guide that has information about candidates in national, state and local races.

(c)2020 the Belleville News-Democrat (Belleville, Ill.)
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