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Hundreds of suburban voting precincts cut

Tuesday, November 01, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County commissioners signed off on Clerk David Orr’s plan to slash 264 voter precincts in the suburbs, a move that not only saves $1 million but reflects a sign of the times, Orr’s staff says.

In the 2008 election roughly 25 percent of the 1 million voters opted to cast their ballots either through early voting or absentee ballot, slashing the need for all 1,937 precincts — and the staff that works the polling place — that are in use today, Orr’s chief of staff Clem Balanoff said during a committee hearing of the Cook County Board on Tuesday.

The number of early voters may continue to grow with the change in the law that opens the door for any voter to cast a ballot early.

“You used to need a reason, [such as] you were going to be out of town,” Balanoff said, explaining that requirement has gone away.

Some of the remaining 1,673 precincts may see as many as 1,100 to 1,200 voters, prompting Cook County Commissioners William Beavers and Joan Murphy to question whether state law allows that.

The state standard is 800 voters per precinct. But in an e-mailed statement, Orr spokeswoman Courtney Greve said the County Board has the home rule authority to alter precinct boundaries as it sees fit; the last time the board did it was in 2009.

In addition, the election code predates early voting and no-fault absentee voting, she said. The clerk’s office did an analysis of election day turnout at the largest precincts and decided against consolidating polling places where expected turnout would be too high.

The County Board ultimately approved the measure Tuesday.

Greve said legal notices will go in to the newspapers about precinct changes, and mass mailings will be sent to voters notifying them of their new polling place before the March primary.

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