Vote early, vote easy

Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham is tallying more than 500 ballots a day, with an eye to possibly hitting 1,000 a day as voters have embraced early voting.

Early voting has not increased the total percentage of people casting ballots, Cunningham said. But the process makes it easier for election judges at polling places and easier for voters who will not have to stand in long lines at the polling place.

"Without early voting, in this last presidential election, people would have been waiting in line until 2 a.m. to vote," Cunningham said. "Early voting gives easier accessibility to vote and cuts down on the administration of Election Day."

Early voting started Oct. 11 and goes through Oct. 28. Cunningham said so far, the county has taken in 7,479 ballots from early voting and 3,725 from absentee ballots for a total of 11,204 cast before the Nov. 2 General Election.

Illinois began early voting in 2006. It began no-excuses absentee balloting this year, meaning voters did not have to give a reason – jury duty, vacation, surgery – for not voting in person on Election Day. Previously, if polls opened late, commuters complained they could not vote because they might miss their train, he said.

"Not anymore," Cunningham said. "Now they can walk from the train station and come here and vote – early."

Cunningham said another factor at play during this election season is grace-period voting.

"Registration stopped 28 days before the election. If they forgot to register, there is a grace period," Cunningham said. "They can come in and register and vote – the same day – or in my office up to five days before the election. They would have to vote here, not at a polling place. That is how wild this is."

So far, Cunningham's office has tallied 115 ballots through grace-period voting.

Military and overseas citizens are applying to vote absentee via e-mail, and then they can cast their ballots either by mail or e-mail, he said.

"With early voting, no-excuses absentee balloting and grace period variables, it's hard to chart where it's going to end up," Cunningham said. "With all these new abilities to vote, we can only speculate and guess."

Mary Bencini of Geneva said she has done both early voting and in-person voting.

"This year I'm going to do early voting again," Bencini said. "I like the convenience. It's very convenient to do and not wait in line."

But Lee and Cheryl Alan of Lily Lake will vote the old-fashioned way – in person – on Nov. 2. No early voting for them.

"It just doesn't seem like your vote counts unless you do it in person," Cheryl Alan said. "I think of November and voting. I don't think of voting in October. If we had voting in September, I would be off-kilter. That's why I can't vote early."

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Illinois is one of 32 states and the District of Columbia that allows early voting, and one of 30 states and the District of Columbia that offers no-excuse absentee voting, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. California has been offering it for 15 years, said Neal Kelley, the Orange County (Calif.) registrar of voters.

"What's really newer is you also have a permanent sign-up for no excuse and do not have to request it every election," Kelley said.

Lake County Clerk Willard Hilander said the office's website allows voters to fill out a card if they prefer to vote by mail.

"We like this because it's getting the word out to people of their legal options, and we curb the cost of an unfunded mandate," Hilander said. "And we have a nice feature on the website that allows you to track the ballot. We've seen a great response."

Some states, such as Oregon, have taken it a step further, with all mail-in voting and no polling places.

Oregon Deputy Director of Elections Brenda Bayes said if voters want to vote in person, they can go to a county elections office and vote.

"The ballots are mailed out between the 18th and 14th day prior to an election, so they have all that time to vote their ballot," Bayes said. "It allows voters the luxury to sit at their kitchen table and look at the voters' pamphlet. They can mail it to the county elections office. Or, we have official secured drop sites and they can drive to one of those to deposit ballots."

Oregon also begins processing ballots seven days before the election – but with security features so nobody knows the tally until after 8 p.m. on Election Day, Bayes said.

But Hilander said she would not advocate all mail-in balloting for Illinois.

"It's an added cost to mail everybody a ballot," she said. "And, if someone does not care about voting, they might sell their ballot to someone for $20 – or they might give it away."

Cunningham said he also would not favor all mail-in balloting.

"I would have a problem with it for the cost of mailing it – unless some congressman lets us use his postal frank," Cunningham said.