Alice Tomaszek was calm, cool and collected Friday morning as she walked out of Crystal Lake City Hall after voting early.
The Crystal Lake resident had voted before, but never prior to Election Day – a choice she was forced to make this year because of a hectic work schedule.
She had done all the necessary research, and was confident with her selections.
“I had to pay attention a little more this year,” Tomaszek said. “You have to be well-informed if you are going to vote early. There’s no looking back.”
Tomaszek joined millions of registered voters who went to the polls early this election season, a growing trend that has changed the campaign process and left time-strapped voters with no excuse not to fill out their ballots.
“Candidates are so much more aware of early voting now,” McHenry County Clerk Katherine Schultz said. “If they don’t get their message out there right away, they don’t have a chance.
“The days of waiting until Election Day are over.”
Close to 23 million Americans took part in early voting through Thursday, according to the U.S. Elections Project at George Mason University. More than 31 million voters cast their ballots early during the 2008 presidential election, a process that varies by state.
In-person early voter turnout statewide was more than 572,000 as of Thursday, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections. Close to 1 million people cast their ballots early four years ago.
Rules have changed since 2008 in an attempt to make it easier to vote before Election Day.
The state no longer requires people to have a reason to cast an absentee ballot, and the time period to vote early was extended through the Saturday before Election Day. Grace-period voting was also extended through Saturday after previously only been allowed until 28 days before the election.
“You no longer have an election day, you have an election period,” said Matthew Streb, political science chairman at Northern Illinois University. “[Early voting] has become an increasingly important tool.”
There are 7.4 million registered voters statewide this year compared to 7.8 million in 2008, according to election officials.
In McHenry County, there are more than 203,000 registered voters compared to more than 199,000 in 2008.
More than 17,350 county residents voted early as of Thursday, a number that was expected to come close to or even exceed the 2008 totals of approximately 23,430 voters once the final days of early voting are included, Schultz said.
Based on numbers from other states, experts in Illinois expect early voters eventually will account for one third to one half of all ballots cast in the state.
The increase in popularity has also forced politicians to think differently.
“We are adapting to it,” said state Rep. Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake. “The way you reach out to voters is changing with everything starting a bit earlier now.”
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, agreed.
“It has increased spending, but I am a big proponent because it gets more people involved,” he said. “There’s always the risk that there could be a surprise and you would want your vote back, but that is few and far between.”