Election law changes may be coming to Illinois: What you need to know

Election law changes may be coming to Illinois: What you need to know

New legislation awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature foresees the possibility of felons being allowed to hold office. Other election law changes would expand vote by mail, push back the 2022 primary election and make Election Day 2022 a state holiday.

Election law changes passed by the Illinois General Assembly light the path for convicted felons to again hold public office, expand vote by mail, delay the primary and give government workers a day off on Election Day.

Those changes become law if Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs Senate Bill 825 and House Bill 1871. Here are those and other potential changes:

1. Delayed primaries and redistricting

SB 825 moves the date of the 2022 general primary election from March 15 to June 28 because of the delay in the 2020 census numbers. The General Assembly is waiting on complete census numbers to redraw Illinois’ congressional districts, and the delay of the primary and associated candidate petition deadlines will give congressional candidates time to collect signatures to get their names on the ballot once those candidates know what districts they will be running in. The delay in congressional redistricting contrasts with the recent passage of state legislative and judicial redistricting plans without census data. Lawmakers instead opted to use population estimates from the American Community Survey.

The bill also postpones some of the redistricting-related deadlines in Illinois counties. The new law also specifies counties may use American Community Survey five-year estimates to determine population for redistricting purposes. This would give county boards an even larger window to enact their plans, as they would not have to wait for the delayed census data, which is set to be available in mid-to-late August.

2. Permanent mail-in voting

Illinois lawmakers passed an expansion of mail-in voting in 2020 to address the prospect of crowded, long lines at polling places in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of October 2020, over 2.3 millionIllinois voters had already requested mail-in ballots for the November 2020 election. If Pritzker signs SB 825 into law, it will be even easier to vote by mail. The bill would allow voters to apply for permanent vote-by-mail status. Voters would then receive a vote-by-mail ballot for all subsequent elections unless the voter requests to be removed from the list, changes registration status, or moves to a different county.

3. Curbside voting and voting centers

Curbside voting is another voting expansion that passed in the wake of COVID-19. HB 1871 included provisions for broad acceptance of mail-in ballots, such as mandating acceptance of ballots mailed with insufficient postage, and allowing election authorities to let voters cast ballots from their cars during early voting and on election day, assigning two election judges to each vehicle. This provision from HB 1871 was separated out and included as its own section in HB 825.

HB 825 further mandates election authorities establish a voting center at an office of the election authority or in the largest municipality where all voters in the jurisdiction may cast a ballot regardless of the precinct in which they are registered. Election authorities are required to identify this location 40 days before the 2022 primary election. This provision would be repealed on Jan. 1, 2023.

4. Election Day holiday

The Nov. 8, 2022, election will be established as a state and school holiday under the new law, just as the 2020 election was made a holiday. There is no general provision to establish election day as a state holiday for years beyond 2022, however.

5. Clarifies a path for convicted felons to hold office again

Illinois law bars those convicted of “infamous crimes,” from being eligible to hold “an office of honor, trust, or profit,” or municipal office. According to Illinois case law, “infamous crime” historically included “arson, bigamy, bribery, burglary, deviate sexual assault, forgery, incest or aggravated incest, indecent liberties with a child, kidnap[p]ing or aggravated kidnap[p]ing, murder, perjury, rape, robbery, sale of narcotic drugs, subornation of perjury, and theft if the punishment imposed is imprisonment in the penitentiary.” SB 825 clarifies that those ineligible from office under this statute may petition the governor for a restoration of rights while asserting that the clarification is merely a declaration of existing law. Illinois has a healthy share of former governors and politicians who could benefit from such a path to regaining elected office.

6. Cybersecurity

SB 852 includes a provision to guard against the threat of cyberattacks on election websites. Each election authority would be required to use a “.gov” address if they maintain a website and “.gov” email addresses. They must perform a biennial risk assessment and monthly vulnerability scans. Election authorities will additionally be required to implement certain cybersecurity tools provided by the state of Illinois.

7. High school voter registration

Every Illinois high school will be required to provide students with information regarding voter registration, and no high school may prohibit nonpartisan voter registration activities on its premises, though they may adopt reasonable regulations regarding such activities under SB 825.

8. Temporary branch polling at county jails

SB 825 would allow county sheriffs to establish temporary polling places in county jails. Residents of those counties held but not convicted can vote in the same elections they would be entitled to vote in based on their residence.

9. Local governments cannot prevent sitting state lawmakers from running for local elected office

One notable provision prohibits units of local government, including home rule units, from enacting an ordinance, referendum or resolution that requires a member of the General Assembly to resign from office before seeking elected office in that unit of local government. The most obvious result of this provision would be to allow Rep. Thaddeus Jones, D-Calumet City, to run for re-election as mayor of Calumet City. The city passed a referendum to prevent state elected officials from seeking the office of mayor and sued to keep him off the ballot, but the Illinois Supreme Court ruled in Jones’ favor because the referendum had been certified after he had filed his nominating papers. State Rep. Brad Stephens, R-Chicago, who also is mayor of the Village of Rosemont, would also be protected from such an ordinance.

Of the nine election changes, the postponement of the primaries will have the most immediate visible effect on Illinois voters. Still, the expansion of mail-in voting passed in 2020 and the permanent mail-in ballot application provisions of SB 825 that await the governor’s signature may have the most long-lasting effects, as many voters may opt to vote by mail from now on instead of standing in line to cast their ballot in person.

One way or the other, these election law changes will ensure that the effects of COVID-19 in Illinois will last far into the future.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly named a politician potentially contemplated by provisions of this bill. That was incorrect. SB 825 does not contemplate the eligibility of a person disqualified from holding office by impeachment under the Illinois Constitution.

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