'Today is historic': Long lines and waits as early voters turn out in force

  • A woman reads a book as voters stand in line for almost three hours at the early voting polling place Thursday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton.

      A woman reads a book as voters stand in line for almost three hours at the early voting polling place Thursday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Kane County voters wait Thursday in Geneva to cast election ballots. There were at least 40 people waiting outside and at least a dozen inside about 3:45 p.m.

      Kane County voters wait Thursday in Geneva to cast election ballots. There were at least 40 people waiting outside and at least a dozen inside about 3:45 p.m. Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 9/25/2020 8:15 AM

Voters around the suburbs turned out in droves for the start of early voting Thursday, waiting in line for hours to cast their ballots in the presidential election.

The coronavirus pandemic and a heated election year are upending what would normally be a sleepy affair well in advance of Election Day.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It's not unusual to open the doors to an early voting site and not have anyone in line, DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek says.

"And usually it stays pretty quiet until a week or two before an election," she said. "But today is historic."

Robert and Kathleen Schultz were two of the hundreds of voters who stood in line for almost three hours at the early voting polling place Thursday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. "It's very important, whichever way you choose," Robert said
  Robert and Kathleen Schultz were two of the hundreds of voters who stood in line for almost three hours at the early voting polling place Thursday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. "It's very important, whichever way you choose," Robert said - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Election authorities reported a busy start to early voting at select sites in Kane, Lake and McHenry counties while they also on Thursday began mailing an unprecedented volume of ballots to those who applied to vote outside polling places during the pandemic.

But by the looks of Thursday's turnout, in-person voting was a popular option.

By 4 p.m., 533 people had voted in Wheaton, with voters still in line, some passing the time by reading books.

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"The election judges are working hard," Kaczmarek said. "It's humming along."

Right out of the gate, voters lined up outside the county fairgrounds before dawn to cast paper ballots only. By the afternoon, they waited as long as 2½ hours.

"It's very important, whichever way you choose," voter Robert Schultz said.

In McHenry County, 482 people voted in person at an early voting site in Woodstock.

The parking lot was full when the doors opened at 8 a.m. The line would stretch as long as the length of the building "and then some," County Clerk Joe Tirio said, though the crowds died down by the early afternoon.

Voters stood in line for almost three hours at the early voting polling place Thursday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton.
  Voters stood in line for almost three hours at the early voting polling place Thursday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. - John Starks | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The county clerk's office always expects a larger turnout on the first and last days of voting, Tirio said, "but we didn't expect that it'd be quite as busy as it was."

"Our primary was so poorly attended, so I was kind of concerned," Tirio said. "But people are definitely interested in voting this go-round."

Lake County voters had to wait 1½ hours at one point in the courthouse lobby in Waukegan, Clerk Robin O'Connor said. Poll workers started the day with two voting machines but added a third after seeing the lines.

At 4 p.m., 260 people had voted, and O'Connor expected at least 50 more.

Kane County Clerk John Cunningham said long lines were under control as early voting opened at his office in Geneva and an Aurora satellite. Voters who showed up in Geneva had their temperatures checked before heading inside voting booths.

"It's extraordinarily good turnout," Cunningham said.

In Cook County, early voting will begin Oct. 7 at five suburban courthouses.

On Oct. 19, early voting will expand across the region.

Voting by mail

Some DuPage voters opting into an expanded vote-by-mail system received a text message Thursday from the election division of the county clerk's office.

"Your ballot for the upcoming election is in the mail to you," the alert read. "Normal delivery time is 5-7 business days."

The notification from BallotTrax provides a new layer of communication for voters who may be worried about the status of their ballots amid questions about whether the embattled U.S. Postal Service can deliver election mail on time.

Voters stood in line for almost three hours at the early voting polling place Thursday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton.
  Voters stood in line for almost three hours at the early voting polling place Thursday at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton. - John Starks | Staff Photographer

Voters in DuPage, Kane and McHenry counties can sign up for BallotTrax to track their ballot through the mail.

"We do have some voters showing up and saying that they had applied for a vote-by-mail ballot," Kaczmarek said. "And so we just want to reassure voters that the vote-by-mail ballot is on the way and will be arriving next week."

More than 159,000 of the 628,389 registered voters in DuPage have requested mail-in ballots. That's more than a quarter of all voters on the rolls.

Kane County planned to send 80,000 ballots out Thursday night.

Election authorities stress that voters should apply for and return ballots as soon as possible, either through the mail or secure drop boxes.

Online voter registration is still available through the state board of elections website.

• Daily Herald staff writers Doug Graham, Susan Sarkauskas and John Starks contributed to this report. For more election coverage and help filling out your ballot, visit dailyherald.com/election.

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