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Phoenix 101: What Students Should Know About Voting by Mail in the 2020 Election

Mary Chappell | The PhoenixIn past years, Loyola Votes held events where students could register to vote ahead of elections. This year, the university put together online resources and plans to host a ballot party Oct. 8 to help students fill out their mail-in ballots.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging in the United States and the Nov. 3 general election less than 100 days away, many people have turned to voting by mail as a way to safely cast their ballots this year.  

While this may be the first-time voting by mail for many people, the concept has been around since 1864. Close to 24 percent of all ballots cast in the 2016 election were by mail-in or absentee ballots, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. This election all but six states are allowing their residents to vote by mail. 

The Phoenix answers some common questions about mail-in voting as election season gets underway. 

When should I apply to vote by mail?

As soon as possible. In Illinois, ballots will start being mailed out to those who applied between Sept. 24 and Oct. 5. The deadline to apply for a mail-in ballot in Illinois is Oct. 29, but the Cook County Clerk’s office and the United States Postal Service (USPS) recommend applications be submitted before that date. 

How do I apply to vote by mail? 

In order to apply for a mail-in ballot, students must first be registered to vote. If students aren’t sure if they’re registered, they can go to vote.org.

If a student is already registered to vote in Illinois, there are two ways to apply to vote by mail. Both Suburban Cook County and the City of Chicago have online applications. If a student can’t apply online, there are mail-in applications on the same website which can be filled out and sent to the local board of elections. 

If a student applied online, they can check the status of their application and their ballot from the time their application is processed to the time their ballot is verified and marked ready for counting. 

I got my ballot. Now what? 

Students must fill out their ballots using blue or black ink and follow all instructions on the ballot to ensure their vote is secure and counted, according to the City of Chicago.

After students fill out their ballots, they can place their ballot in the return envelope and either mail it to the Board of Elections or place it in a dropbox located at any early voting location across Cook County.

However, if a student wishes to submit their ballot on Election Day, they must go to the voting precinct for which they are registered or to the drop box at Daley Plaza which will be open until midnight, according to Cook County Deputy Clerk John Mirkovic. 

If a student decides to use the USPS, the envelope must be postmarked by Nov. 3. Cook County is providing return envelopes with postage paid, so there’s no need to buy a stamp. 

Keep in mind, not every county in Illinois will do this, so students should check with their local board of elections. If someone is submitting a ballot within two weeks of election day, it’s recommended they submit their ballot at one of the drop boxes. 

What do I do if I don’t live in Chicago or Suburban Cook County?

Students can find links to the Board of Elections for their specific state here. From there, find the page marked absentee or by mail. 

Some states, such as California, Washington and New Jersey, are automatically sending out ballots to all registered voters, according to Ballotpedia.  

Be aware that many states have updated policies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and if students are confused, they should reach out to their local election officials to find out specifics for their area.

Does Loyola offer any resources for students who wish to vote by mail?

The Phoenix spoke to Vivian Mikhail, director of communications for the office of civic engagement. Mikhail said Loyola has a vote absentee page with all 50 states’ election websites available for student use.

Mikhail said the office of civic engagement is holding a ballot party on Oct. 8 where employees will go over ballots and explain to students how to fill them out. 

Anything else I should know?

If a student registers to vote by mail, they shouldn’t vote in person. Doing so is a class 3 felony in the state of Illinois and is a violation of federal law. 

Before voting, students should also look at who is on the ballot in their local area. Ballotpedia offers a resource where students can look at a sample ballot based on where they are registered to vote. This website also gives students an overview of each race on the ballot, including the duties and roles of each elected office, background on the candidates and campaign finance information.

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