CHICAGO – The number of votes cast in parts of Illinois before Election Day could top records set four years ago, some officials predicted Monday as residents trickled to the polls for the first day of early voting in the state.
Rules have changed since 2008, making it easier for people to vote before Nov. 6. For one, the state no longer requires people to have a reason to vote by mail and the time period to cast early ballots in person has been extended until the weekend before Election Day.
Chicago-area election officials were confident that ballots cast before the presidential election would rival the numbers from four years ago because of the changes and attraction to early voting, where there generally aren’t long lines or substantial wait times.
In 2008, roughly 260,000 Chicago residents, or about 25 percent of voters, cast early ballots in the city. In suburban Cook County, it was roughly 226,000, or about 21 percent of voters. Statewide nearly 1 million, or about 16 percent of Illinois voters, voted early.
“I’m going to go on the record on say that we will at least equal, if not exceed, where we were four years ago,” Chicago Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal said. “That’s a high bar to reach. I think we can reach it again.”
He voted Monday, along with other election officials, at one of the city’s 51 early voting locations.
Rupert Borgsmiller, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, said he thought the number of early votes would at least match four years ago. The state has hundreds of early voting locations.
Early voting will go until Nov. 3, but it’s not as long a time period as 2008. Election officials say that’s because turnout in the initial days of early voting was lower than other days. Illinois residents can also vote absentee by mail or in person through Nov. 5.
However, the number of overall registered voters is down from four years ago when enthusiasm for Obama, particularly among young and minority voters, was credited for a rise in voter registrations nationwide.
The Illinois State Board of Elections has said that about 7.4 million people are registered to vote statewide, down roughly 5 percent from 2008, when it was approximately 7.8 million.
While Obama is certain to win his home state of Illinois, Neal and Cook County Clerk David Orr said it would be difficult to match the enthusiasm of the 2008 historic election. They said voter registrations are down because the city of Chicago has lost residents since then and election officials in Chicago and its suburbs have purged voter rolls to remove people who have died or moved.
Voters who showed up Monday said voting early was a quick option.
“It was great,” said Troy McEntire, 46. “Done in five minutes.”
It was his first time voting early and he said he wanted to avoid waiting in line on Election Day. McEntire voted for President Barack Obama and left races he wasn’t sure about blank.
Beverly Venit, a retired vacation consultant, also voted for Obama and cited a lower unemployment rate as one of the reasons. She said she was going to be out of town on Election Day and didn’t want to miss the chance to cast her ballot.
“I don’t want to not vote,” she said.
Election officials said no results will be tabulated until Nov. 6, and the number of registrations could still go up a bit. Although the last day to register to vote was Oct. 9, there’s a “grace period” until Nov. 3.