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Daniel Lambert/MEDILL

Early voters bypass lines and other Election Day troubles. 

Early voters on track to set record

by Daniel Lambert
Oct 16, 2008

They say that Chicagoans vote early and vote often. This election year suburban voters are heeding the former.

Suburban Cook County voters are taking advantage of early voting in a big way as Election Day draws near. By Wednesday night 24,803 ballots had been cast in the first three days of early voting, according to the Cook County clerk’s office. Lake County is also seeing large turnout with 11,618 completed ballots as of Thursday afternoon.

One of the polling places where voters showed up Thursday morning to beat the Election Day rush was the Alsip Village Hall.

“I voted early to get away from the lines,” said Denise Cochran. “[The process] was very easy, I would recommend it.”

Merrionette Park resident Roy Smith said early voting as his only chance to cast a ballot.

“I work 12-hour shifts, so I wouldn’t be able to vote otherwise,” Smith said.

Counties in the metropolitan area have made a concerted effort to publicize early voting.

“We’ve been very aggressive in both our goal setting and promotion . . . we intend to have 25 to 30 percent of people vote early, and I think we will have no problem in meeting that,” said Willard Helander, Lake County clerk.

Cook County Clerk David Orr said early voting is a relief on voting equipment on Election Day. Orr said he expected the number of early voters to triple the 51,000 who voted early in February’s primaries. Still, Orr was surprised as the numbers came in.

“When I saw the numbers come in on Tuesday and it was over 9,000, I was surprised . . . we are always expecting that [the number of voters] tends to grow,” Orr said.

All early voters in suburban Cook County will use touch screen voting machines that keep a paper record of the vote, said Courtney Greve, Cook County clerk spokeswoman. Early votes are not tabulated until polls close on Election Day.

“Everything is basically stored in very secured places . . . the early votes are then blended in with election day votes after the polls close,” Greve said.

Mixing the early votes makes it impossible to determine the preferences of early voters, Greve said.

Orr expects to surpass in several days the number of early voters who cast ballots in the primary election.

John Bonifaz, legal director of the non-profit advocacy group Voter Action, sees early voting as just one step in opening up elections to the greatest number of people.

“We think [early voting] is helpful to make sure that the ballot box is accessible . . . we also believe it is important to support Election Day registration, weekend voting and Election Day holidays,” Bonifaz said.

Early voting can also have an effect on how political campaigns strategize.

“I think the campaigns are more aware that late breaking events will only affect a subset of voters,” said Brian Gaines, associate professor of political science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Gaines also said the statistical evidence shows early voting has a relatively small impact on overall voter turnout.

“It doesn’t really drive up turnout that much, maybe by a couple of points,” Gaines said.
Early voting in Cook and Lake Counties runs until October 30.