What you need to know to vote in today's consolidated election

Today is the last chance for voters to cast a ballot in the consolidated election, where candidates are vying to represent the interests of their community members in municipal, school and other local matters.

Suburban election authorities stress that each vote cast in these races holds more weight and has a greater effect on your daily life than any other election.

“If you really want to see change in your community, this is the time to do it,” McHenry County Clerk Joe Tirio said. “Get out there and let your voices be heard.”

Polling places are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Here's what you need to know.

What's on the ballot?

Municipal, school, township, library, parks, fire district and other local board seats will be on the ballot, along with local referendum questions.

Though voter turnout is traditionally low in consolidated elections, election authorities say these are the races that most directly affect a community's tax base, tax rates, policies, education system, economy, public safety and the well-being of residents.

“Many of our quality-of-life issues impacting our everyday lives are handled on the local level,” DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek said. “This is why voting in a consolidated election matters.”

What can I bring into the polling booth?

Newspapers, voter guides and other reference materials are permitted, as long as they're kept private and removed from the voting booth once your ballot is cast. Most suburban election authorities also allow cellphones, though some may advise against it.

Taking photos of your ballot or any other voter is prohibited, as is electioneering or displaying campaign literature.

Be sure to wear a face covering and practice social distance at the polling site.

Can I still register?

Yes. Same-day voter registration is available at designated polling places for any U.S. citizens who have lived at their current addresses for more than 30 days. You'll need two forms of valid identification, including one that shows your address, to register.

How can I submit a vote-by-mail ballot?

Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday and received within 14 days to be included in final tallies.

Drop boxes and county clerk's offices may be limited or closed to the public on Election Day, so be sure to check with your local election officials before relying on other methods of submitting a vote-by-mail ballot.

If you change your mind and wish to vote in person, you can surrender your mail-in ballot to an election judge at a polling place.

How prevalent is mail-in voting in this election?

Most suburban election authorities say interest in voting by mail has spiked this year compared to previous consolidated elections. As of a week ago, Lake County had sent out more than 15,000 mail-in ballots — double the total number processed in 2019.

In suburban Cook County, 71,000 voters had applied to vote by mail by early last week. That number hovered around 15,000 two years ago.

County clerks say the shift in voting patterns likely stems from an expanded vote-by-mail program in the 2020 election cycle.

“I believe voters became more educated,” Lake County Clerk Robin O'Connor said. “Not only are they more comfortable, but they felt safe and secure (voting by mail).”

Election officials are unsure whether this will result in a higher voter turnout or if voters are simply changing the method in which they cast a ballot. Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham reported a dip in early in-person voting as of last week, whereas mail-in voting numbers were higher than normal.

“Do those (mail-in) votes replace in-person votes, or will they be in addition to? Hard to say,” McHenry County's Tirio said. “The last election was so dramatically different in every way, and what effect that might have is unknown yet.”

When will I know the results?

Election authorities in the suburbs typically report preliminary tallies from early, mail-in and Election Day voting throughout the night after polls close Tuesday. But the results won't be final until 14 days later when all outstanding mail-in and provisional ballots are counted.

That means the vote totals you see on election night could fluctuate, potentially making a difference in some tight races, said Chuck Pelkie, chief of staff for Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry.

Where can I find the preliminary results?

Suburban Cook County:

DuPage County:

Lake County:

Kane County:

McHenry County:

Will County:

What if I witness something fishy at the polling place?

Voter intimidation, electioneering, poll watching or any other complaints should be reported right away. Many election authorities recommend alerting election judges at the polling place or calling the county clerk's office directly. Some also have Election Day hotlines staffed with lawyers who can help.

Cook County: (312) 603-0236

DuPage County: (630) 407-5600

Lake County: (847) 377-8683

Kane County: (630) 208-5328

McHenry County: (815) 334-4242

Will County: (815) 727-8872

  Tuesday is the last chance to vote in the consolidated election, where voters decide who will represent them in school, municipal and other local matters. Brian Hill/
  DuPage County election judges Bonnie Farley, left, and Melissa Nachman help a voter get his paper ballot during early voting at the county fairgrounds. Brian Hill/