Every four years, we elect a president based upon each candidate’s vision for the future and our assessments of who is most capable of addressing the issues facing the country. This year, these issues include the coronavirus and its economic impacts, healthcare, systemic racism, and climate change. At this point in the campaign, most voters have made up their minds between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden and in fact, as discussed further below, millions of people have already voted. As is common in most presidential elections, supporters of both candidates are calling this the most important election of their lifetime.
Of course, no matter how important the presidential election may be, it is not the only important decision voters have to make this year. When the 117th Congress meets for the first time in January, it is expected that the Democratic Party will maintain control of the House of Representatives, but it is less certain which party will have majority control of the Senate. Currently, the Republican Party holds a 53 to 47 seat majority in the Senate (45 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with the Democratic Party), but with polls indicating close races in Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina, the Democratic Party has the opportunity to win majority control of the Senate as well.
Specific to Illinois, perhaps the most consequential decision to be made by voters is whether to amend the state constitution to remove the requirement for income to be taxed at a flat rate. Currently, the state income tax is set at 4.95% regardless of an individual’s income, but if the so called “Fair Tax Amendment” passes, the state government would be allowed to set different tax rates for varying levels of income. If the amendment passes, legislation previously signed by Governor Pritzker creating six tax brackets would take effect in January. Under this law, anyone making $250,000 or less would pay less income tax than they would under the current system. Supporters of the amendment argue the measure is necessary to improve the state’s economic outlook, but opponents warn that the amendment sets the precedent for further income tax increases down the road. For more information on this proposed constitutional amendment, see Ballotpedia.
Beyond what is at stake in the upcoming elections, the ongoing global pandemic makes the 2020 election unique in that many Americans will be voting weeks, and in some cases months, prior to Election Day. Professor Michael McDonald at the University of Florida manages the United States Elections Project and is tracking early voting during the 2020 election. As of the morning of October 23rd, over 51 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 election, which amounts to about 37% of all votes cast during the 2016 general election. In Illinois, as of October 21st, 1,364,617 Illinoisans have already voted.
Despite the record amount of early voting, the 2020 election are also unique in the fact that we may not know the results of the presidential election and many other down-ballot races in certain states on election night. This is due to the increased reliance on voting by mail, which is a safer alternative to traditional in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Associated Press, 23 states and the District of Columbia have absentee ballot deadlines that fall after Election Day. Moreover, some states, such as Pennsylvania, which is a battleground state in the presidential race, prevent election workers from beginning to process ballots until Election Day. These processes are further complicated by ongoing legal challenges to new electoral rules and President Trump’s inaccurate claims about mail voting leading to increased rates of voter fraud.
Overall, although the stakes are enormous and many voters are eager to put Election Day behind them, we will all likely need to be patient as we wait for election results this year.
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Matthew Geras, PhD, teaches American politics and research methods at the University of Illinois Springfield.
Associated Press. 2020. “Vision 2020: How Soon Will We Know the US Election Outcome?” AP NEWS. https://apnews.com/article/how-soon-us-election-results-ba17f0528c1742187f275b634b06c1d1 (October 23, 2020).
Durkee, Alison. 2020. “Trump’s Mail-In Voter Fraud Claims Have No Merit, Courts Rule.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/alisondurkee/2020/10/23/trump-mail-in-voter-fraud-claims-have-no-merit-courts-rule-new-jersey/#4848360443f2 (October 23, 2020).
Fessler, Pam. “Key Legal Fights Over Voting Remain Unresolved As Election Day Draws Close.” NPR.org. https://www.npr.org/2020/10/08/921225458/key-legal-fights-over-voting-remain-unresolved-as-election-day-draws-close (October 23, 2020).
“Illinois Allow for Graduated Income Tax Amendment (2020).” Ballotpedia. https://ballotpedia.org/Illinois_Allow_for_Graduated_Income_Tax_Amendment_(2020) (October 23, 2020).
McDonald, Michael. 2020. “2020 General Election Early Vote Statistics.” 2020 General Election Early Vote Statistics. https://electproject.github.io/Early-Vote-2020G/index.html (October 23, 2020).