Quick, take a look at your calendar for next week -- specifically, Tuesday.
Is there room among your Things To Do for voting? If not, you still have an alternative to make sure your preferences are counted Nov. 6.
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Through Saturday at specific locations around the suburbs, you can easily cast your ballot, often with a minimum wait or no wait at all, thanks to the early voting process that is transforming elections in Illinois and around the country.
Election historians note that among reasons the nation's founders settled on a Tuesday for Election Day were specific cultural factors. Sunday was out because most late-18th Century Americans held it as a day of rest and worship, and Monday was problematic because so many people in the then-agrarian society required as much as a day to travel to a polling place.
Times of course have changed much. Leaving aside for the moment the reverent reflection on a populace that would undertake a day's travel by foot or horseback to cast a ballot and of course not counting the extremes of a late-autumn East Coast hurricane, we've become a highly mobile society yet one in which poll watchers worry that a rainy or blustery day could keep so many people home as to turn the outcome of an election one way or the other. Suddenly, Tuesday feels decidedly disadvantaged.
Enter early voting. These days, county clerks throughout the region are marveling at the transformation it has brought to the election process. In Cook County, for instance, Clerk David Orr reported this week that the first week of early voting has rivaled the record early-vote turnout in 2008 -- although he noted the difficulty of making accurate comparisons because of differing voting periods in the two elections.
Nevertheless, by the end of the first week of early voting, nearly 100,000 Cook County voters had made their selections. By Wednesday, the number had increased to more than 150,000. Meanwhile, Kane County's early voters, as Daily Herald reporter Harry Hitzeman reported Tuesday, also hovered on a track near the 2008 record. Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham noted that by the end of the first week of early voting, nearly 10 percent of the registered voters in the county had cast their ballots.
On a national scale, authorities say that nearly a third of the nation's voters cast their ballots before the official Election Day 2008, and clearly the appeal of early voting has figured heavily into the Obama strategy for the 2012 campaign. If nothing else, the impact of Hurricane Sandy has emphasized the value of an election schedule that provides alternatives.
So, again, check your calendar for next Tuesday now. If things are looking a little tight, you still have three days to work with until early voting ends on Saturday, which by the way, is also plenty of time to look through the Voter's Guide published in today's Daily Herald to study up on the basics of a race you may be unsure about.
Here are web addresses to help with times and locations:
Aurora Election Commission: auroravotes.org