How do you vote?  Does it matter?  Does each method of voting provide the same level of security for your vote?

In Illinois, the answer is no. 

There are different ways each type of ballot is audited for accuracy in Illinois – and in the case of the paper mail-in ballot, there are no required procedures for auditing your vote. 

How do we vote?

We cast ballots electronically with a paper copy of that vote, or on paper ballots that we mark with a pen. We vote in early voting centers through Election Day, in our precinct on Election Day, or by mail-in paper ballots. In addition, there is nursing home voting, which is done by paper-mail-in ballot.

How is the Illinois vote audited?

For ballots cast in-precinct on Election Day – regardless if they are paper or electronic ballots - Illinois law provides for the Illinois State Board of Elections to randomly select 5% of all precincts in each election jurisdiction for an audit. All ballots cast in-precinct on Election Day in these selected precincts are then hand counted to check for accuracy.

In a similar process, the State Board of Elections selects 5% of all voting machines used during early voting in each election jurisdiction.  The vote totals reported are compared to a re-count of the ballots cast on these selected early voting machines.

However, if you vote by a mail-in paper ballot, Illinois election code does not mandate any audit of your ballot.  In Illinois, historically speaking for a General Election, you might reasonably anticipate 7-8% of the total vote will be conducted by mail-in paper voting. 

7-8% of the vote in Illinois is never subject to audit for accuracy!

Mail-in paper ballots are counted at the central counting center for each election jurisdiction.  A machine called a ‘Central Counter’ is usually used to process the paper ballots.  Illinois election code calls for pre and post tests of the central counters to assure the machines are calibrated and able to correctly tally a controlled set of ballots, but this equipment test is not considered an audit.  It is considered a testing of functionality.

Why is an audit necessary?

Legally, mail-in paper ballots should not be counted before the election is closed.  Generally speaking, they are counted in ‘batches”.  It should be noted that there should be approved Democrat and Republican staff overseeing the process of counting these ballots, but the actual processing of the vast majority of these ballots is done prior to Election Day and is not required by law to be done with two party oversight.  Pre-counting processing generally involves checking voter applications and the returned ballots to assure the voter has the same signature, that the applicant is registered to vote, and that they have not already voted.

In earlier investigations, Defend the Vote investigators documented partisan temporary staffers rubber stamping every signature regardless of whether it resembled the signature in the voter record.  In a separate investigation, we caught the Chicago Board of Elections staff not bothering to compare signatures on the envelopes containing the voted ballots to the official voter record. In a separate event, our auditors observed staff at the Chicago Board of Elections walking out of the central tabulating room, where mail-in paper ballots were being counted, with the USB device containing the record of the vote tucked in their pockets.  There was no verified security over that device which held the results of the vote… a result that will never be audited.

Further, just because bi-partisan staff oversee inputting ballots into a central ballot counter, these individuals do not have any idea if the actual ballots are being properly counted.  These individuals are not counting votes and do not see the actual votes on each ballot.  They participate in placing ballots into batches and then watching them run through a central counter.

Illinois legislators need to clean up the blatant holes in Illinois election security protocols.  However, precautionary steps can be taken before the November elections.  Election jurisdictions can review all procedures for storing absentee ballots and applications.  They should focus on tightening holes in the system by assuring all mail-in paper ballots are properly secured during storage, and that bi-partisan teams compare signatures on the envelopes of voted ballots with the voter record before approving the ballots for counting.

It would not be difficult to have the State Board of Elections randomly select different ‘batches’ for auditing the mail-in paper ballot.  Individual election authorities can also do the same thing!  This would provide a method to assure that the vote totals reported from mail-in paper ballots are the same as those cast.  It also provides a deterrent to voter fraud when there is at least a chance an offender can get caught!

You can help!

Call your election jurisdiction.  Ask them how mail-in paper ballots are stored, processed, and counted. How is the integrity of the count proven? Let us know or contact us for more information at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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