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Suburban Cook voters can stop fretting over fate of mail ballots — but final results are another matter
An online ballot tracking system showed many of those unaccounted for ballots to be located at a U.S. Postal Service facility. In reality, they were in limbo at the clerk’s new Cook County Elections Operations Center in Cicero, waiting to be checked in as received. That’s no longer the case.
Tuesday, October 27, 2020 Chicago Sun-Times by Mark Brown
Suburban Cook County voters worried about their mail ballots being counted can probably rest easy.
With one week to go until Election Day, Cook County officials said Tuesday they have erased a processing backlog of mail ballots from suburban voters and that everyone should soon receive email confirmations.
As of last week, the Cook County clerk’s office had reported only about 11% of mail ballots had been returned compared to a 44% average statewide for other election jurisdictions.
An online ballot tracking system offered to voters by the clerk’s office showed many of those unaccounted for ballots to be located at a U.S. Postal Service facility.
In reality, they were in limbo at the clerk’s new Cook County Elections Operations Center in Cicero, waiting to be checked in as received. That’s no longer the case.
Edmund Michalowski, Cook County’s deputy clerk for elections, said 257,000 returned mail ballots had been processed by Monday and that he expected another 61,000 to be completed by the end of business Tuesday.
Cook County received an unprecedented 571,000 applications for mail ballots this year, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
That would put the clerk’s mail ballot return rate of 56% on par with other election jurisdictions around the state.
If trends hold, more than half of Illinois voters will probably have cast their ballots before the polls even open on Election Day, the latest voting data shows.
The State Board of Elections reported Tuesday that more than 2.4 million ballots have already been cast statewide, including 1.3 million by mail and another 1.1 million in person at early voting sites.
The actual number is probably several hundred thousand votes higher because of a lag in reporting from local election jurisdictions.
Just short of 5.7 million ballots were cast in Illinois in 2016.
As expected, mail voting has already shattered the previous state record of 371,000 set in 2016, and the in-person early voting record of 1.5 million from that same year is also set to fall. There is usually a surge of early voting in the week before an election.
“We are on pace to shatter all previous voting records in Cook County, said County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, whose office oversee suburban voting.
The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners reported collecting 553,222 ballots from city voters through Monday, including 325,342 mail ballots and 227,880 in person early voters.
The great unknown is how many voters will still show up on Nov. 3.
Michalowski said the clerk’s office will be geared up for a normal Election Day crunch with a full complement of voting equipment, personnel and ballots at suburban polling places.
If you’re voting by mail this year, election officials continue to ask you to please turn in that ballot as soon as possible.
You have until Election Day to do so, but that’s cutting it awfully close.
What should voters do if Election Day rolls around and they still haven’t received confirmation their mail ballot has been received?
“If they don’t feel confident, and we’re not confirming their ballot has been received, we would advise that they vote on Election Day or in early voting,” Michalowski said.
If they do so, the county’s voting system should be able to prevent them from voting twice by blocking their mail ballot, he said.
But please use your common sense. If you mail your ballot at the last minute, you’re probably not going to know what happened to it by Election Day.
The local surge in early and mail voting fits the pattern around the country, with the Washington Post reporting Tuesday that at least 66 million Americans already have voted.