The Nov. 3 presidential election will be unprecedented in U.S. history, with many people forced to rely on mail-in voting to cast their ballots just as the United States Postal Service appears to be in a state of disarray.

Here is some basic information about voting by mail that may ease some of those concerns. 

How do I register to vote?

You can register to vote online, in person or through the mail. The deadline for registering in person and through the mail is Oct. 6. The deadline for online registration is Oct. 18. You can also register to vote on Election Day, but only at your home precinct, which is the place where you’re assigned to vote based on your residency.

You can find the details at the Cook County Clerk’s website.

But what about voting by mail?

You can register to vote by mail by going online to the Cook County Clerk’s website. 

All you need is your driver’s license, state ID and/or the last four digits of your Social Security number; the address where you want your ballot mailed; and your email address. You may request a mail ballot by emailing or by calling 312-603-0946. 

Once you complete your vote-by-mail application, you should receive an official mail ballot “no more than 40 days and no less than 30 days before the election,” according to the Cook County Clerk’s website. Applications for mail ballots are available in at least 12 different languages. 

If you don’t receive a mail ballot within that time period or if you questions, email or call 312-603-0946. You can also check the status of your mail ballot by visiting the Cook County Clerk’s website.

Your ballot “must be postmarked no later than Election Day and received at the Cook County Clerk’s office within 14 days after Election Day,” the clerk explains. 

What if I’m anxious about mailing my ballot?

You actually don’t have to put your ballot in the mail if you don’t want to. Those who applied for mail ballots will start receiving them by Sept. 24, according to the clerk’s office. You’ll get a postage-paid return envelope if you want to mail the ballot, and the clerk is urging voters to do that as early as possible once they receive their ballots. 

But if you want to avoid the mail, you can take your ballot to a secure drop box located in at least 50 early voting sites across Cook County. The drop-off hours will be from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. 

“Mail ballots will be collected on a daily basis and will be time stamped,” the clerk’s office explains. 

Drop boxes for mail ballots will be available starting Oct. 9, at 69 W. Washington St. in Chicago, and at the five Regional Courthouses in suburban Cook County, including the Maywood Courthouse, 1500 Maybrook Dr. In Maywood. 

Drop boxes will be available at all early voting sites — including Brookfield Village Hall, 8820 Brookfield Ave. — starting Oct. 19. 

When, if ever, will I need ID?

You only need an Illinois driver’s license or a state ID to register to vote online or in person before Election Day. In order to register to vote in person on Election Day, you need two pieces of ID, one of which must show your current address. 

You may be asked to show ID if an election judge challenges your right to vote (i.e., if you’re voting at a precinct on Election Day that is different from your home precinct). But even if you can’t show ID at that exact moment, you can still cast what’s called a provisional ballot, which is a ballot that doesn’t get counted until you prove your eligibility.

For more information on when ID is needed and when it isn’t, visit the county clerk’s website.

What’s the difference between a mail ballot and an absentee ballot?

An absentee ballot is necessarily a mail ballot cast by someone who can’t vote in person. In Illinois, there’s functionally no difference between the two. 

I went to prison. Can I vote?

Yes, if you’re a formerly incarcerated individual, you can vote in Illinois. You can also vote from jail while you’re awaiting trial, since you haven’t been convicted of a crime.  

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