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McHenry County already has seen a significant surge in early and mail-in voting this election cycle, with more than 10,000 residents casting their ballots in the first two days of countywide early voting.

As of late Tuesday, 16,496 residents had voted early and 29,031 mail-in ballots were received, McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio said in an interview Wednesday. This means a total of 45,527 people countywide already have voted in the Nov. 3 election.

“Early voting is just off the charts, just completely off the charts,” Tirio said. “[This election] is obviously different for so many reasons. It’s a November election, it’s a presidential election, the personalities that are involved, the COVID-19, just the general civil unrest and the political polarity.”

In the 2016 presidential election, a combined total of 46,689 county residents voted early or by mail when all was said and done, according to historical election data. This year, the county is almost at that number already with 11 days of early voting left until Election Day, Tirio said.

The uptick in mail-in voting can be attributed to COVID-19 safety concerns as well as the statewide decision to send out mail-in ballot applications, including to all of McHenry County’s estimated 155,000 registered voters, Tirio said.

There have been some reports of voters who have had to wait in socially distanced lines that extended outside of polling locations, but overall, people seem willing to wait to cast their vote, Democratic Party of McHenry County Chairwoman Kristina Zahorik said Wednesday.

McHenry County Republican Party Chairman Tyler Wilke said he sees early voting lines as a good thing – within reason.

“The right to vote is very important, and I think that, no matter who you vote for, I think it’s good to see that people are getting involved in their civics, especially at a local level,” Wilke said.

In general, the county’s early voting locations are busiest at the very beginning and the very end of the early voting period, Tirio said. Early voters who want to beat the lines should make a plan to go in the next week or so, he said.

Most polling places see the most people in the morning and toward the end of the workday, with a smaller rush around lunchtime. Tirio said the best time of day to avoid lines is in the late morning or late afternoon after the lunch hour.

“It’s a good thing to do your research before you get to the [polls],” he said. “I’d encourage you to get a sample ballot, fill it out, and you can bring that into the polling place with you.”

Zahorik said she has gotten quite a few calls from new or seemingly inexperienced voters, something she said is an exciting sign that voters are especially motivated this election cycle.

“They’re the different group of voters, perhaps less consistent voters, that are paying attention and are wanting to make sure their voice is being heard and their ballots are being cast,” she said. “We are getting a lot of calls into our office with kind of mechanical questions about the process of voting, which we did not necessarily have in 2016.”

About 67% of eligible county residents voted in the 2016 presidential election compared with 74% of eligible Illinois residents, Zahorik said. She said she is hoping this will be the year that McHenry County surpasses the statewide average for voter turnout.

For those who may be voting by mail for the first time, Tirio said voters should read the instructions on the mail-in ballot in their entirety before filling out the ballot.

Tirio encouraged voters to make use of the county’s ballot drop boxes, where mail-in ballots can be securely submitted as a way of bypassing the mailing process.

A 24-hour ballot drop box is located outside of the McHenry County Administration Building at 667 Ware Road in Woodstock. Smaller drop boxes are available during operating hours of four of the county’s 11 other early voting locations: the McHenry Township Office, McHenry City Hall, the Dole Mansion in Crystal Lake and Lake in the Hills Village Hall.

County residents choosing to vote by mail should try to get their ballots mailed out or dropped off as soon as possible to give the clerk’s office plenty of time to receive them, Tirio said. That said, all mail-in ballots that are postmarked or dropped off by Nov. 3 will be counted as long as they are received within 14 days of the election.

Residents are allowed to drop off ballots for family members by having their family member fill out an affidavit on the exterior envelope of their mail-in ballot, Tirio said. The affidavit asks the voter to fill in his or her name, the name of the person dropping off the ballot on his or her behalf and requires the voter’s signature.

No proof of identification is needed to drop off a mail-in ballot, just as no ID is needed to vote in person, Tirio said.

“Republicans generally aren’t real excited about mail-in ballots, but nobody asked for this pandemic, so you kind of deal with the hand you’re dealt,” Wilke said. “The clerk has done a good job assuring people that their mail-in ballots are going to be secured.”

Despite all of the changes and unique challenges that this election cycle brings, the start of countywide early voting has been smooth this week, Tirio said. He said he was pleasantly surprised by this given the escalation of “political vitriol and chaos” across the country.

“I’m so proud of our community and how they have responded with such civility toward one another, and that continues into the election,” he said.

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