In anticipation of an election that will “test the limits of democracy,” Gov. JB Pritzker is urging the state Board of Elections to use federal aid to help local election authorities prepare for this year’s unusual election.
He suggested the board use $4 million in Help America Vote Act money to support local election boards’ recruitment of poll workers and the installation of drop boxes for voters who don’t want to drop their ballot in the mail.
“This election cycle, where the presidential contest may not be decided on election night while vote by mail ballots are tabulated, will test the limits of our democracy and the faith of our people in it,” Pritzker wrote in a letter to the Illinois State Board of Elections. “These unprecedented times require unprecedented involvement and action by the State Board of Elections.”
More than 1.5 million Illinois voters have already requested a vote-by-mail ballot. If a similar number of residents cast ballots in 2020’s election as 2016’s presidential race, that would track with being 27% of all votes cast.
A board spokesman said directors will take up Pritzker’s plan on Monday.
Separately, Pritzker also warned Illinois’ congressional delegation of dire budget cuts that may be needed due to lost revenues from the pandemic response without help from the federal government.
“This is not just an Illinois problem — or a Florida problem or a Texas problem — nor is it just a red state or a blue state problem,” Pritzker wrote of the $6.5 billion budget deficit the state has seen between the last and current fiscal years.
Pritzker asked each agency of his administration to identify 5% in cuts that they could make this year and 10% in cuts for the next fiscal year that begins in July. Certain agencies — such as the Illinois Dept. of Public Health, which has led the state’s COVID-19 response — are exempt.
It remains unclear what kind of pandemic relief — if any — Congress will give states like Illinois that are facing massive budget deficits.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Pritzker is asking the Illinois State Board of Elections to approve his suggested use of the $4 million in federal funds.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois state politics and government for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.