By Tara Molina

CHICAGO (CBS) — Election office phones are ringing off the hook because of a letter sent by the Secretary of State’s office this week.  It has voters worried about the status of their vote-by-mail application.

Election law required the Secretary of State’s office to send the letter as a reminder. But it’s causing confusion, because, as CBS 2’s Tara Molina found, there’s a gap in the voter information reported to them.

Like so many others, Janet Campbell plans to vote by mail in Illinois. She’s already submitted her vote-by-mail application. So, when she got a letter indicating she didn’t, she panicked.

“Between the mail, and who knows what, I’m not going to be able to vote?” Campbell said. “I’m afraid that this election is going to be fraught with all these problems.”

She was relieved immediately after calling her local election authority. “He was able to tell me that both my husband and I are going to receive our ballots.”

CBS 2 heard from others with the exact same concerns. Molina reached out to the Illinois State Board of Elections and the Secretary of State’s office to see why people, who’ve already submitted their vote-by-mail applications, are getting the notices.

A spokesperson said the letters were sent to anyone who had not returned their application by Aug. 26, leaving a weeks long gap in the information reported to the Secretary of State’s office. They say roughly 700,000 applications have been received since they reported that information, including applications like Janet’s.

Any voter who had sent in a ballot application before getting the letter, can ignore it. They will get a ballot. Voters also still have time to send in an application.

A spokesperson with the Secretary of State’s office said they’re required to send another letter by Oct. 15. Again, the letter is only a reminder and if you don’t want to vote by mail, you can ignore it.

This story was produced, in part, with the help of journalists at Electionland, a project from the non-profit news organization, ProPublica. If you are having trouble voting, Electionland wants to hear from you. 

Here is more information about how mail in voting will be conducted in Illinois:

Under the election law in place for the 2020 general election, 6.4 million vote-by-mail applications were sent by local election authorities to voters who had voted in either the 2018 general, 2019 consolidated or 2020 primary election. Those had to mailed by Aug. 1.

The law then required the Secretary of State’s Office to send a reminder by Sept. 15 to any voter who had received but had not returned their vote-by-mail application. Those reminders started arriving this week.

The mailing list for the Sept. 15 reminder was compiled from information provided to the Illinois State Board of Elections from the state’s 108 local election authorities between Aug. 26 and Sept. 2. Because of this, voters who returned their vote-by-mail ballots after Aug. 26 (and definitely after Sept. 2) may have received this reminder mailing. (Roughly 700,000 applications have been received since Aug. 26.)

Voters who have already returned and confirmed receipt of their vote-by-mail application can disregard this week’s mailing. Voters who have returned their vote-by-mail application but have not received confirmation should contact their local election authority to obtain the status of their ballot request. Contact information for local election authorities can be found at https://www.elections.il.gov/ElectionOperations/ElectionAuthorities.aspx?MID=cQHxtxVEmuo%3d&T=637360430953595477.

Voters who do not wish to vote by mail also can disregard this week’s reminder. However, they will also receive a second letter from the Secretary of State sometime after Oct. 15, as the election law also requires a second reminder to be mailed by that date to anyone who received but has not returned a vote-by-mail application.

Local election authorities will begin sending ballots to voters who requested them on Sept. 24, which is also the first day of early voting in Illinois. So far, more than 1.7 million Illinois voters – 21 percent of all 8.01 million registered voters in the state – have requested vote-by-mail ballots.

Tara Molina