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Early voting popularity continues

Thursday, November 09, 2006
Pioneer Press
by JOHN HUSTON Staff Writer

Voting early in the general election proved to be more popular than in the March primary, according to preliminary statistics from the Cook, Lake and McHenry county clerks offices.
Illinois residents could vote between Oct. 16 and Nov. 2. In suburban Cook County, more than 31,000 voters utilized the early voting option, which more than doubled the 14,000 who cast their ballots before the March primary, according to County Clerk David Orr's office.
Though there were twice as many voters casting ballots for the general election, the Clerk's office offered fewer than a quarter of the number of voting sites -- 32, which was down from 130 in March.
In August, Orr said the decrease in the number of early voting sites wouldn't cause a problem. On Friday he said voters were happy with the process.
"We have thousands of surveys completed by voters," Orr said. "Nearly 99 percent of the respondents rated their voting experience as 'excellent' or 'very good.'"
Preliminary totals showed the most-utilized suburban Cook County early voting site as Northbrook, which saw 2,757 ballots cast. Orland Park totaled 2,227, followed by Evanston with 1,725, Palatine with 1,720 and the downtown County Clerk's office coming in fifth with 1,625.
Orr has said he expects the early voting option to steeply increase in coming years, noting that other states that have offered it, such as Washington, sees 70 percent of voters casting their ballots before election day. Others average between 35-40 percent, he said.
In the last mid-term, gubernatorial election in 2002, 51 percent of suburban Cook County's registered voters cast a ballot.
If 55 percent of Cook County's 1.4 million registered vote in the general election, the 31,000 who voted early would make up about 4 percent.
McHenry County also saw early voting double from the primary, from 1,745 in March to 3,687 before the general election.
If 55 percent of its 186,323 registered voters cast ballots on election day, early voters would account for 3.6 percent.
In 2002, McHenry County turned out 46 percent of its registered voters.
McHenry County Clerk Katherine Schultz said she expects the early voting trend to increase, especially given her area's demographics.
"With the makeup of McHenry, by election day 2008 I expect to see more than half of our voters casting their ballot before election day," Schultz said. "They live here but they don't work here, and to me early voting would really appeal to that section of the population."
But this time, the process wasn't flawless.
On Nov. 2, the final day of early voting, the computer server that gave the county's four sites access to the Clerk's Office database went down. In two of the locations -- Algonquin and Grafton townships -- voters had lined up to vote, Schultz said.
Some waited until the problem was fixed while others, like Michael and Clarice Douglass of Cary, left in frustration. "This is the first time when I voted, or where I tried to vote, where I was disappointed with the system," Michael Douglass said.
Lake County saw an even larger increase in early voters than Cook or McHenry, totaling 18,438 compared with 5,003 in the March primary, said Clerk Willard Helander.
But unlike Cook and McHenry, which were each in their second election offering early voting, it was Lake County's fourth, after offering the option during two special elections in 2005, Helander said.

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