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updated: 11/6/2012 5:21 AM

Early voting might mean short lines at the polls today

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  • Voters line up this morning at the  Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.

      Voters line up this morning at the Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin.
    Christopher Hankins | Daily Herald

  • Voters line up Friday at Arlington Heights village hall. Record numbers of people voted early in the suburbs, which could ease your wait today.

       Voters line up Friday at Arlington Heights village hall. Record numbers of people voted early in the suburbs, which could ease your wait today.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer


Today is the day to cast your vote.

But so were most days of the last two weeks.

Election Day voters going to the polls today could find relatively little congestion, local officials say, thanks to busy early-voting sites where thousands across the suburbs already have made their selections for president, Congress, the Illinois legislature, and county and local offices.

In some suburban counties, a record number of people voted early -- sometimes waiting in long lines late last week just to get their ballots in.

"A lot of people said they just want to do it, regardless," Cook County Clerk David Orr said.

Orr and other suburban election officials predict as much as 30 percent of the total turnout this year could come from early voters, perhaps making the Election Day experience a little easier for everyone else.

Among their other tips to help today go smoothly: Go to the polls before about 4 p.m., when it's less crowded. And check where your polling place is, even if you think you know it already. Voters who cast ballots only in presidential years might be surprised to find the location has changed.

The early voting period was five days shorter this year than in 2008, but numbers of voters were similar -- a sign that the once-novel idea of casting a ballot before Election Day has caught on in Illinois. More people also are voting by mail, which no longer requires applicants to give a reason.

"It's wild around here," McHenry County Clerk Kathleen Schultz said last week as voters flooded her office.

Election officials, who once worried they wouldn't have the budgets to publicize early voting, have found allies in political campaigns that have an incentive to get people to the polls early.

That way, candidates have fewer worries about weather, traffic jams and other delays that can keep voter turnout low on Election Day.

"They've got to make a choice whether they get to work or they don't vote," said Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham.

In suburban Cook County, about 229,000 voted early, compared to 226,000 in 2008. McHenry County saw a similar increase to 26,100 from about 23,400 four years ago.

But other counties saw drops in early voters, to 77,700 in Lake County from 83,000 in 2008, to 46,227 from around 50,000 four years ago in Kane County, and to 78,246 in 2012 from about 96,200 in 2008 in DuPage County.

Total voter turnout won't be known until after Election Day, of course. Enthusiasm could be down because Illinois isn't targeted as a presidential swing state like Ohio or Florida, but heated races for Congress and the Illinois legislature could drive people to the polls.

Suburban counties have different plans for counting early and absentee ballots, which could slightly affect early results.

In Kane County, for instance, a slightly higher percentage of Republicans voted early compared to Democrats in the March primary election. If early ballots are counted first, initial returns in that county would skew slightly Republican.

DuPage County counts early voting ballots and mail-in ballots first, before Election Day votes. Lake and McHenry counties, on the other hand, count early ballots only after all of the precincts report Election Day results. Cook County mixes them in.


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