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Cook County cuts voting precincts
Popularity of early voting leads to smaller turnouts, prompting consolidations

Wednesday, November 02, 2011
Chicago Tribune
by Erika Slife

With more voters taking advantage of early voting and absentee ballots, Cook County is eliminating hundreds of voting precincts in the suburbs to save an estimated $1 million next year.

Voters might find themselves casting a ballot at a different location than they're used to, but County Clerk David Orr said he doesn't expect longer lines because many of the precincts were smaller and had little turnout.

Orr also plans to add election judges and voting stations to some of the expanded precincts to prepare for an influx of voters. "There are things we can do with increasing the number of judges at bigger precincts and providing more equipment where necessary to help move things along," Orr said.

The clerk acknowledged that there could be longer lines during rush hours in November 2012, when President Barack Obama is up for re-election. The savings comes from spending less on election judges, equipment programming, equipment delivery and polling place rental fees.

The reduction in precincts coincides with the state's redistricting of legislative boundaries following the federal census. The clerk's office redrew precinct boundaries, and an analysis of those new precincts revealed that some were underused by voters.

The latest reduction in precincts — from 1,937 to 1,673 — marks a continuing voting trend over the last decade. Suburban Cook will have 33 percent fewer precincts in 2012 compared with a decade ago, the clerk's office said. Between 2002 and 2009, the number of precincts fell from 2,502 to 2,290.

Early voting has kicked in during the last decade. Nearly a quarter of all ballots were cast before Election Day in 2008, the clerk's office said.

"There's less people on Election Day as a result of absentee, early vote and mail-in ballots," said Commissioner Elizabeth Gorman, R-Orland Park. "It's freeing up Election Day polls."

New voter identification cards will be issued to all registered voters before the March 20 primary election. The cards will identify Election Day precincts and polling places, as well as the closest early voting location and the new 2012 voting districts.

And beginning in December, new precinct information also will be available on the clerk's website, cookcountyclerk.com, under the Your Voter Information tool. The new precinct lines will affect every suburban township except for Lemont and Riverside townships, the clerk's office stated.


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