Illinois’s 2018 primary election takes place on March 20, and there’s a lot at stake on the ballot. The primary will decide November’s Democratic and Republican nominees for statewide offices including governor and attorney general. It will also set the candidates for all 18 of Illinois’s congressmen in the U.S. House. State House and Senate races are also on the ballot, as are Cook County elected positions. And voters in Chicago and Cook County also have a couple of important non-partisan ballot questions to answer. We won’t tell you how we think you should vote, but if you need a how-to on voting, we’re here for you.
How do I register to vote?
The Illinois legislature unanimously passed an automatic voter registration bill in 2017 that will sign you up or update your registration when you go to the DMV or other state agencies, unless you opt out. But that plan has yet to be fully implemented, so for now you need to register proactively. If you’re a U.S. citizen age 18 or older (or if you’re 17 but will be 18 by November 6), you can register to vote in the primary election in one of several ways.
Register online through March 4: If you already have an Illinois driver’s license or state ID, you can register at the State Board of Elections Online Voter Application portal. You can also use this tool to check your current registration and see if you need to make an update.
Do I have to register as a Democrat or Republican to vote?
Nope. Illinois is an open primary state, meaning you don’t have to declare a formal party affiliation—you just have to declare which party you’d like to affiliate with for this particular primary.
You can even opt out of both parties’ primary and choose to vote only on the non-partisan, non-binding resolutions on the ballot for Chicago and Cook County.
Where do I go to vote on Primary Election Day?
To vote in person on March 20, Chicago residents can find your precinct polling place here by entering your home address. (If you missed the registration deadlines, city residents can also register and vote same-day, but only at your local polling place.) If you live in suburban Cook County, you can find your polling place here. Residents of other counties can find their election authorities via this directory.
What if I can’t make it to vote on March 20?
If you’re going to be out of town or can’t get off work, or just don’t want to wait in line on election day, you still have options.
Chicago residents can vote early in-person starting February 21. Early voting takes place from February 21 through March 4 in the Loop, at 16 West Adams Street. From March 5 through 19, there will be one early voting site open in each of the city’s 50 wards; see the full list here.
Suburban Cook County voters can cast early votes at the Cook County Clerk’s office (69 W Washington) starting February 21, or at one of 52 polling places from March 5 through 19 (see locations here).
You can register and vote on the same day at Chicago and Cook County early voting sites; if you’re registering, bring two forms of ID, one of which shows your current address.
You can also choose to vote by mail. Chicago residents can request a mail-in ballot using this online form. Requests must be received by 5pm on March 15; ballots must be postmarked by March 20 to be counted.
What are we voting on, anyway?
The March 20 primary will decide the major-party nominees for several statewide races. Six Democratic hopefuls, including J.B. Pritzker, Chris Kennedy and Daniel Biss, are vying to challenge Republican incumbent Governor Bruce Rauner in November; Rauner also faces a Republican challenger, Jeanne Ives.
Eight Democrats and two Republicans are running for Illinois attorney general, hoping to replace four-term AG Lisa Madigan, who chose not to run again. Among the broad field of candidates are former Gov. Pat Quinn, State Sen. Kwame Raoul, former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti and former public defender Aaron Goldstein.
Current Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Michael Frerichs, all Democrats, are unopposed in the primary, and only one Republican is running for each office (Jason Helland, Darlene Senger and Jim Dodge, respectively), so those races are essentially just previews of November’s face-offs.
Neither of Illinois’s U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, is up for re-election this year, but every member of the House of Representatives is. Notable Chicago-area races include the 4th district, where incumbent Rep. Luis Gutierrez is retiring; former mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and community activist Sol Flores are in the running for the solidly Democratic seat.
In the 5th district Dem primary, political newcomer Sameena Mustafa is positioning herself as a progressive challenger to incumbent Mike Quigley for the seat once held by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. A similar dynamic is playing out in the 3rd district, where Marie Newman is seeking to unseat incumbent Dan Lipinski.
State legislature seats and Cook County elected positions, including Circuit Court judges, will also be on the Democratic and Republican ballots. Chicago residents can see a localized sample ballot for either party by entering your street address here.
Whether you choose to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary or neither, there are several non-binding resolutions that will appear on all ballots. The most interesting, perhaps, is the recreational marijuana referendum for Cook County voters. It doesn’t provide a direct path to legalization, but since Cook County alone contains about 40 percent of the population of Illinois, a strong “yes” vote could be useful for state legislators trying to push the issue in Springfield.
Chicago residents will also answer ballot questions regarding protecting the Affordable Care Act, combatting gun trafficking and addressing the opioid crisis.
Register by mail: If you don’t have an Illinois license or ID, you can print a registration form here and mail it in with a copy of a current out-of-state ID or proof of residence, like a current utility bill or bank statement. Mailed applications must be postmarked by February 20.
Register in person: Residents of Chicago can register at any of the city’s early voting sites (see below) from February 21 to March 19. Suburban Cook County residents can register in person by February 20 at any of the Cook County Clerk’s offices, including in the Loop (69 W Washington St). See the County Clerk’s website for more.
This content was originally published in TimeOut Chicago on February 15.