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Local News

Kendall County Clerk prepares for vote by mail expansion in Illinois

File photo: Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette talks during a Tuesday, March 3 County Board meeting at the county office building, 111 W. Fox St. in Yorkville.
File photo: Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette talks during a Tuesday, March 3 County Board meeting at the county office building, 111 W. Fox St. in Yorkville.

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YORKVILLE – The Kendall County Clerk's office is preparing for even more COVID-19 related costs as new Illinois state laws are passed that would expand voting by mail.

Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette said during the Tuesday, June 16 County Board meeting her office was waiting for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker to sign the election omnibus bill. She said that will create a lot of changes for her office, cost a lot of money and told the County Board they will need to prepare for that.

“Once he signs that, we are getting ready to act,” Gillette said.

The update came before Pritzker signed SB 1863 and HB 2238 into law Tuesday, June 16 to provide vote by mail applications to all recent voters in Illinois due to the pandemic. The laws also expand early voting hours at permanent polling places, improve the signature verification process and make election day a state holiday for all government offices, except election authorities, K-12 schools and post-secondary institutions governed by the State Universities Civil Service Act, according to a Tuesday news release from the governor's office.

Under the new law, local election offices must mail or email vote by mail ballot applications and timeline information to voters who cast a ballot in the 2018 general election, the 2019 consolidated election or the 2020 general primary election, including voters who registered or changed addresses after the primary election, according to the news release.

Gillette said the applications also will be available online. She said the thought was for her office to send out those applications to every registered voter in the county and not just those who voted in those three elections.

"We just want to make sure that everybody has that opportunity and to help with the whole stay-at-home order and the spreading of this virus – just for ease of voters, to offer them to everybody," Gillette said.

Voters who submit their application for a vote by mail ballot by Oct. 1 will receive their ballot by Oct. 6, according to the news release.

In addressing voter security concerns, Gillette said the office will need to have a panel of three judges to review signatures on vote by mail applications and ballots, and the judges have to decide unanimously if the signatures match before accepting the ballots.

County Board member Audra Hendrix said studies have shown mail-in ballots have a low fraud risk.

“I’m nonetheless glad that we’re going to have some checks and balances on that,” Hendrix said.

However, Gillette said, it remains to be seen how her office will be able to accommodate space-wise the additional necessary staff and potentially thousands of vote by mail ballots sent in.

Hendrix said funding concerns for vote by mail were brought up during the county's finance committee meeting last week. She said that comes as local governments study lessons learned in Wisconsin, where vote by mail requests went up by 80%.

“So we need to prepare for that and the costs that are involved in that as well as tallying for that,” Hendrix said.

Gillette said that, per the state law, there is a grant that local governments could apply for to help offset those additional related expenses and the office will need to keep track of expenses that will go into adhering to the new legislation. She said it's her understanding the county will get that funding as long as they follow the new legislation.

“We are going to get some help – I just don’t know to what amount we will receive, but we'll be tracking that and submitting everything,” Gillette said.

Gillette said the new law also requires local election authorities to set a central voting site where anyone who lives in the jurisdiction can vote, regardless of their precinct, to further promote safety on election day, according to the news release.

The legislation also expands early voting hours to help ensure election authorities are able to comply with Illinois Department of Health safety and health guidance, including social distancing and preventing overcrowding at the polls on election day.

Kendall County Board Chairman Scott Gryder said the county should plan for facility accommodations to follow social distancing guidelines in particular.

“Because if they’re going to have to maintain social distancing here in this building, I have seen presidential years with lines out the door and around the block,” Gryder said.

Permanent branch polling places are required to be open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekends and holidays, according to the news release.

The legislation permits the use of curb-side voting, in which voters can fill out the ballot outside of the polling place. The bill also authorizes election authorities to establish additional early voting hours for voters whom COVID-19 presents increased health risks.

Gillette said the office has always had curbside voting, where a voter would call ahead to notify election judges they were coming and two election judges, one from each party, would go out to the car. She said early voting dates would remain the same in Kendall County but extended voting hours would have to be in effect for two weeks ahead of election day as opposed to the usual week before.

Gillette said the office's biggest concern is staffing to adhere to the new state legislation. She said the current staffing situation wouldn't be enough to meet those new needs and that the office will take all of the help they can get.

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