Northwest Herald

Eye On Illinois: Mail-in ballots have their place, but in-person still an important tradition

After spending more than a quarter century writing opinions, I’ve found more comfort of late in trying to focus on analysis. In other words, exploring how and why government officials and agencies act in a certain way versus simply telling readers why they should see an issue in a certain light.

For one thing, the older I get the less I see the world in absolutes. For another, audiences seem more interested in being inspired to inquire than told how to think.

All of which sets up my thoughts on Thursday’s Capitol News Illinois story about House Bill 4198, a proposal from state Rep. Carol Ammons, D-Urbana, that would allow entire counties to automatically send mail-in ballots to registered voters. The General Assembly’s spring session begins today, and I’m still stuck trying to land on a personal opinion.

Vote-by-mail is increasingly popular. So much so that Don Tracy, Illinois Republican Party chairman, has since at least September 2022 encouraged GOP partisans to consider the option, noting an enhanced peace-of-mind regarding ballot security and a positive influence on turnout efforts. Tracy elicited “vote by mail” chants at the state fair in August, asserting the “party that votes for weeks and months will mathematically beat the party that only votes for one day.”

Ammons, speaking last week during a House Ethics and Elections Committee meeting, echoed Tracy’s sentiments but also said the current process is inefficient.

“When we went back to look at the utilization of the ballots, the number that came back, and the cost associated with mailing a ballot, we realized as we talked to other jurisdictions that you would actually save the money if you simply mailed them the ballot,” Ammons said.

Fewer pieces going through the mail would seem to reduce the opportunities for chicanery or accidents. If every voter gets a ballot linked to their unique registration, that would have to save time somewhere in the process.

A week before Ammons’ comments the Lake County Clerk’s Office unveiled a new federally-funded facility that compiles 1,200 mailed-in ballots per hour. That’s still almost a dozen days of counting if every one of the 337,976 November 2020 votes came through the mail, but they don’t all arrive at once, and counties could make a case for investing in additional technology if voter habits shifted.

And yet ... I like voting in person. Early is handy, but Election Day just feels more right. Not for security, but tradition and community. And finalizing decisions on the walk over to the polling place. HB 4198 would require in-person voting to remain available, a seemingly essential provision.

This topic certainly will draw significant Statehouse attention. I’ll happily equivocate.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at