Lake County invests $1.65 million in better vote-by-mail equipment
To ensure the county's election officials can accurately and more quickly process votes by mail, Lake County leaders last week authorized a $1.65 million investment in upgrades that officials say will greatly speed up the process.
Lake County Clerk Robin O'Connor said the new equipment will automate many time-consuming tasks that previously were done by hand, such as opening envelopes and sorting ballots.
"All vote-by-mail ballots will be reported on election night with the exception of vote-by-mail received on Election Day," O'Connor said. "It's an exciting time for our office and Lake County."
That would be a big improvement over the first pandemic-era elections when victors went undetermined for days and even weeks after counting began.
A prominent example was the race for Lake County state's attorney in 2020. At the end of Election Day on Nov. 3, incumbent Mike Nerheim, a Gurnee Republican, led Eric Rinehart, a Highwood Democrat, 41,757 votes to 25,335 votes, but that result mostly comprised ballots cast in person that day. As vote-by-mail ballots were counted, Nerheim's lead dwindled and finally disappeared. Nerheim conceded victory to Rinehart on Nov. 10. The official vote count came in at 169,218 votes for Rinehart and 155,710 for Nerheim.
O'Connor said her office counted 140,536 vote-by-mail ballots in the 2020 presidential election, far more than the 39,968 vote-by-mail ballots turned in by voters in the 2016 presidential contest.
O'Connor said the $1.65 million authorized by the Lake County Board comes from the county's portion of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11.
She said in addition to new machines, the money also will aid her office in sending vote-by-mail ballots out to voters who request them.
O'Connor said the new equipment will not speed up the final determination of winners. That canvassing process happens at least two weeks after Election Day.
She said the new equipment hasn't yet been received but she will have more information about when it will be up and running in the new year.