14 East’s 2020 Voting Guide

Welcome to 14 East’s 2020 Voting Guide — we’re happy to have you here. This guide is focused specifically on how to register to vote and cast your ballot safely and securely this November. The staff at 14 East has compiled this guide through engagement through social media — we paid attention to the questions people ask about voting, the things that you all were sharing and the conversations we have in our own lives to research and compile a comprehensive and concise how-to.

This guide focuses mostly on Chicago and suburban Cook County. If you’re reading this from outside of Illinois, we suggest taking a look at your local Board of Elections website or another reliable elections source, like Ballotpedia. 

Click here to read this voting guide in Spanish. (Haz click aquí para leer en español.)


If you’ve never voted before, you’ll have to register! In Illinois, residents can register in-person at their county clerk’s office, at a polling location or online. There are a few basic requirements to register to vote in Illinois: you have to be a U.S. citizen, be a resident of the jurisdiction you’re voting in for at least 30 days prior to Election Day, and be 18 years old.

Register to vote online

Online registration closes on October 18 at 11:59 pm, and up until that deadline you can register through this online voter application. The online platform also allows for current voters to change their registered address and name, in addition to registering for the first time in Illinois. The application is a series of questions and requires a Driver’s License or State ID number, in addition to your address and contact information.

Same-day and in-person voter registration

Illinois is one of 21 states that offers same-day voter registration, which allows first-time voters to register on the day they vote in person, including November 3. In order to register, you must bring two forms of ID or mail that have your name and address.

 What kind of ID can I use to register to vote? 

In order to register, file an address change, or file a name change, you’ll need to present two forms of ID, with one listing your current address. Pieces of mail, like bills and transcripts, count!

 What if I’m a college student, and I live in different locations? What should I do? 

 To start, research the different races occurring in your hometown’s precinct and the precinct where you live to attend school. Are there any values or candidates you particularly support or oppose, or state-level ballot measures and referenda that are important to you? Use this to determine which location you want to cast your ballot in.

If you choose to register in the precinct where you live to attend school, either on or off campus, you cannot vote in your home state nor be registered there. By registering in Illinois, for example, you’d nullify your registration in your home state and forfeit your right to vote in that state; if you’re planning on staying in Illinois for a while, maintain residency and want to vote on Illinois issues, this isn’t a problem. It’s recommended that after registering in a new state that voters contact their local election authority to ensure their prior registration is nullified properly.

However, if you find yourself homing in on issues in your home state or precinct, you think you’ll only be in a new precinct for a short amount of time, it might make more sense to request an absentee or mail-in ballot instead.

  I want to register to vote, but I live in a dorm. What do I do? 

If you live in a location that is different from your mailing address, like a dorm, figuring out how to establish residency can be difficult. One way you can provide proper ID is by contacting student housing and requesting a letter proving your residency, which will include both your legal name and dorm address. That, paired with something like your student ID or credit card, would be enough documentation for election officials to register you. At DePaul, students can contact the Department of Housing at housing@depaul.edu to request a proof of residency document; all you need is your student ID number!

If you want to register to vote in your home state and receive a mail-in/absentee ballot, simply fill out the corresponding form for your state and list your mailing address as the location where you want to receive that (like the Stu’s Mail Center!).

Mail-in Ballots

Mail-in-ballots have been perhaps the most contentious and highly questioned aspects of the 2020 Election, and there’s a lot to clarify here.

It’s first important to understand that mail-in voting isn’t new. The practice actually dates back to the Civil War, when soldiers were off at war and needed a way to vote in the presidential election. Soldiers in both the Confederate and Union armies were given the option to mail in votes from their battleground and have them counted back home.

Since then, voting by mail has been offered in at least some capacity by every state, and the practice is being expanded to include all voting during the COVID-19 pandemic by 46 states. All four states that have not expanded mail-in voting — Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas — are led by Republican governors, according to the nonpartisan Open Source Election Technology Institute.

Over the past several months, however, misinformation and fear around the security of mail-in-voting ran rampant, primarily from the White House and some members of Congress aligned with the President. President Donald Trump, who himself voted through absentee ballot in Florida, has said that voting by mail during the pandemic is a way for people to “cheat,” and called it “rigged,” with zero evidence.

Additionally, in May, Republicans in the House of Representatives criticized the Democrats’ coronavirus relief package, which included aid to the Postal Service, calling it a “Democratic agenda.” 

All of this has amounted to uncertainties about the reliability of voting by mail. However, if you plan to vote this November and don’t want to risk the health hazards of voting in person, rest assured: voting fraud by mail almost never happens. Like really, really, almost never.

According to NPR, over 250 million ballots have been cast via mail in the past 20 years, and just 143 criminal convictions of voter fraud have come of them, which only amounts to roughly one case per state every six or seven years. That’s less than a thousandth of one percent. You can even track each of these instances by state in the Heritage Foundation’s voter fraud database. There’s also no evidence that mail-in voting is more prone to interference from foreign actors, as suggested by Attorney General William Barr back in June.

So, you can vote by mail. It’s secure and reliable, so long as you make sure you follow a few steps.

First of all, you need to request a ballot by a certain date. In Chicago, you need to request a ballot by 5 p.m on October 29. Ideally, you should request your ballot as soon as possible. Although Postmaster General Louis DeJoy made a statement amid criticism of his relationship with President Trump in August, affirming that the postal service would “deliver the nation’s election mail on time and within our well-established service standards,” it’s still a best practice to allow up to two weeks for your request to be received and returned with a ballot.

Registered voters in Illinois can request a ballot through the mail. You may have already received an application for a mail-in ballot, which you should fill out with the required information — a driver’s license or state ID number, the last four digits of your social security number, your address and an email — and return it (postage will be included in the return envelope).

You can also apply for a ballot through the Chicago Board of Elections website here

Once you receive your ballot, fill it out per the instructions included. You can then mail the ballot back (it should include a return envelope) or drop it off at a designated dropbox. Most importantly — your mail-in ballot must be postmarked by November 3 to count. This map by the Chicago Tribune is continuously updated and shows dropbox locations in Chicago and the surrounding counties.

I’m worried my signature looks different than the last time I voted. How can I fix that? 

If you’re worried about your signature being inconsistent, you shouldn’t freak out too much: typically, election judges look for patterns, not exact matches. That said, check with your local election authority about whether they offer a form to update your signature; the Chicago Board of Elections offers a signature update form for voters to send in by mail or as a PDF here.

What happens if my mail-in ballot gets challenged?

If your mail-in ballot gets challenged, you’ll get a notification from your election authority within 48 hours, either via email or phone, if you provided one, or through snail mail. Then, you’ll get the opportunity to confirm your identity and send in a statement back to the election authority, even if it’s after November 3 — signature issues can be fixed until November 17, and by law, voters with challenged ballots must be notified and given sufficient time to respond.

One thing that can disqualify your ballot or cause it to be rejected is an improperly sealed envelope — if your envelope isn’t correctly sealed, then the election officials cannot accept and process the ballot.

Early Voting

So you decided that you don’t want to risk day-of voting but are worried about mail-in ballots? Sounds like early voting is the choice for you.

Early voting at the Loop Super Site, at 191 N. Clark St., began October 1 and continues through October 13. On October 14, early voting opens up in the individual wards, and continues until November 2.  You can also register to vote at all early voting sites (you just need two forms of ID, at least one of which shows your current address).

October 1 through October 13 

Loop Super Site (191 N. Clark St.)

Monday – Friday  8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday  9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

October 14 through November 2 

Early Voting sites in all 50 Wards plus the Loop Super Site

Monday – Friday 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Saturday – Sunday  9 a.m. – 5 p.m.

And here are early voting sites in suburban Cook County, with the map below showing early voting locations across Chicago.

Day-of Voting

Polling places will be open on Election Day, November 3, 6 a.m to 7 p.m.

Early voting locations are open, but find your polling place here.

Voting in person in the midst of a global pandemic? Here are steps you can take to keep yourself healthy and safe. 

The last time we had this convo, we were in the midst of an utter whirlwind. Students were being sent home, classes were transitioning online, masks, Clorox wipes and paper towels were disappearing from shelves, and we were figuring out just how much time we could spend with our families without going crazy. All this aside, we’ve learned a little bit more about this pandemic we’re living through and how to keep ourselves and everyone around us safe.

For starters, the CDC recommends that voters avoid in-person voting if possible and instead vote by mail. However, if that for some reason isn’t a possibility for you, be sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Wear a mask! This is the absolute most important thing to do.
  • While the CDC has advised polling locations to disinfect all voting booths before and after voters enter, be sure to take matters into your own hands as well.
  • Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands with soap and water before and after using any voting booths or materials.
  • Finally, do your best to maintain a social distance of 6 feet or more. The CDC has also advised polling places to create clear, socially distant boundaries, but just in case that doesn’t happen at your polling place, be sure to practice it yourself.

Don’t let misinformation throw you off course! Here are a few things to remember to practice good voter conduct.

You can only vote once
Voting more than once, or even attempting to vote more than once in Illinois, is a class 3 felony. If you registered to vote by mail and cast a mail-in ballot, make sure you do not also go to vote in person. Election judges have a record of which voters have received ballots.

There is no such thing as voting online
This is very important to remember. You can only vote in person, by mail or by dropping your ballot in a secured dropbox. Whatever your voting method is, it isn’t online.

Be vigilant of the information you receive on social media
Put on your journalist hat and get ready to investigate! If you come across any information regarding the election, be sure to investigate the source. If you come across a source that you deem suspicious or that lacks credibility, election officials urge voters to reach out to their local election authority. In Chicago and Cook County, call the Illinois State Board of Elections at 312-814-6440.

You never have to vote for someone you don’t like or support
Undervoting is the practice of not voting for a specific candidate on the ballot. For races that only have one candidate running, you don’t necessarily have to support that candidate; for races that have multiple candidates and ask you to select more than one, voting for only one is okay. Bottom line: it’s okay to leave things blank on your ballot!

Change your mind about how you’re going to vote? Here’s what to do.

Sometimes, we think we want to vote in one modality, but switch to another. Here’s what you have to do in order to make that switch!

You requested a mail-in or absentee ballot, but want to vote in person.

No worries! Just bring your ballot with you to the polling place — without it, the election authority may think you’re trying to vote twice, which isn’t allowed. If you lost your ballot, or never received one, you can fill out an affidavit and a provisional ballot, which will still allow you to vote in that precinct.

You wanted to vote in person, but now you want to vote by mail.

Totally fine! Just make sure to request your ballot online at least five days prior to the election, or in person up to a day before the election. Your ballot has to be postmarked by Election Day, and received by the election authority within 14 days after the election.

Voting Accessibility

With the nation still learning how to adapt to COVID-19, there has been an increase in mail-in voting. While convenient for many Americans, mail-in ballots are not ideal for people with disabilities. Such individuals may have to rely on others to help write in their ballots, which eliminates the privacy that is so important when it comes to casting one’s vote.

In suburban Cook County, 96 percent of precincts are accessible to disabled voters. Click here or call 312-603-0987 to check if your polling place is accessible if you live in Suburban Cook County. If you live in Chicago, you may determine if your polling place is accessible by checking this list. If you need help finding your polling place in Chicago, click here.

What if I need help entering the polling place in suburban Cook County?

If you need assistance entering the polling place, you can notify the Clerk’s office 24 hours in advance of Election Day. To do this, call 312-603-0987.

What if my polling place is not accessible in Chicago?

If you need help with accessibility in Chicago, you can fill out this form and email it to fpca@chicagoelections.gov. This program allows you to read and mark your ballot online and then print and mail it out. The deadline for this form of voting is October 29 at 5 p.m.

What are my options if I am impaired?

Individuals who are visually impaired or have limited dexterity are encouraged to use specialized touch screen voting machines at polling locations. These machines have an audio track that reads the ballot to the voter in English, Spanish, Chinese or Hindi.

If you are visually impaired, there are handheld magnifiers available for your use at the polling places. You can ask an election judge for one if you feel it will aid you.

There are also seated voting booths for individuals who prefer to use an optical scan ballot. These booths are typically used to accommodate individuals in wheelchairs, or senior voters who feel more comfortable sitting.

What if I cannot fill my ballot out on my own?

If you feel as if you need assistance marking your ballot, whether it is physical or on the touch screen machine, you may bring a friend or relative, or request assistance from election judges in your precinct. You and the person assisting will have to sign an affidavit at the polling place.

What if I do not wish to enter the polling place?

If you don’t want to enter your polling place, you can request a mail-in ballot, or you can participate in curbside voting. If you choose this option, one election judge from each party will meet you at a specified location outside your polling place with a ballot. If you wish to do curbside voting outside your designated polling place, you must notify the Clerk’s office a week before Election Day. You can reach them by calling at 312-603-0987 or emailing accessibility.info@cookcountyil.gov.

If your disabilities permanently prevent you from entering a polling place, or if you are a resident of a nursing home or care facility, you are eligible to receive an application for your ballots to be sent by mail prior to every election for a five-year period. More information on the Disabled Voter Program and how to apply can be found here. This is the form you will need to fill out.

What if I wish to vote and receive information in a language other than English?

In Cook County polling places, all posters, instructions and ballots must be bilingual. Every polling location will have all signage and ballots in English and one other language. The second language will be either Spanish, Chinese or Hindi.

There will be bilingual election judges available in most precincts for voters who feel they need assistance in a language other than English.

The touch screen voting machines allow voters to choose the language (English, Spanish, Chinese or Hindi) they wish to read the ballot and instructions in. Additionally, the voter can request an audio ballot at the touch screen machines. These audio ballots can be listened to with headphones in any of the four languages, and can be helpful for voters with reading difficulties.

If further language assistance is needed, voters or election judges can call language assistance hotlines. A bilingual staffer from the Clerk’s office will then aid the voters over the phone. These hotlines can also be called before Election Day with any questions.

What if I am in a hospital, nursing home, or similar institution and can’t leave to vote?

If you were admitted to the hospital fourteen days or fewer before Election Day, you can have your ballot delivered to you. Specific instructions can be found here. You will have to fill out this form. If you are a permanent resident of a nursing home or care facility, you are eligible to join the Disabled Voter program described above. You will have to fill out this form.

What if I am overseas or in the military?

If you are a Cook County voter who lives overseas or are serving in the military, you are eligible  to apply for a mail ballot through completion of a Federal Postcard Application (FPCA). The FPCA is valid for one year and the voter will be sent a mail ballot for each election held in that year. For more details on the FPCA and if you are eligible, click here.



This guide was developed by the 14 East Staff, written by Francesca Mathewes, Yusra Shah, Grace Del Vecchio, Patsy Newitt, Cam Rodriguez and Marissa De La Cerda, and edited by Robin Mosley

Infographics by Cam Rodriguez and Patsy Newitt

Header image by Bridget Killian