EYE ON ILLINOIS: Not too early to evaluate election procedures for possible improvement

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Although that question can be examined politically, it’s too early to do so productively. But it’s not premature to look at things from a procedural standpoint.

In 2016, nearly 1.9 million people voted before Election Day: 370,074 by mail and 1,620,694 at an in-person site. This year’s total nearly doubled, as more than 1.7 million voted by mail and more than 1.8 million did so in person. Yet for as much as officials and media explained those alternative methods, confusion flourished for months.

Much of that uncertainty can be attributed to the ongoing pandemic as well as significant discourse concerning the usually unquestioned reliability of the U.S. Postal Service. But there’s also ambivalence in national outlets discussing election protocols because each state has its own voting rules, legal challenges and political considerations.

That macro mishmash is somewhat reflected on the state level as well because although each Illinois county is allowed to run elections the same way, the actual administration differs by jurisdiction. The reasons are obvious: differences of demography (Hardin County has about 4,000 residents, Cook has 5.1 million) and geography (Putnam County is all of 160 square miles, McLean is 1,184) as well as the most pressing factor: elections are expensive.

In the suburbs, with dense population and deeper pockets, voting sites are abundant. My daily dog-walking routes pass multiple Election Day precinct locations, and there are four early voting sites within 8 miles of my house and 13 others throughout the county, not including the clerk’s office. Then there’s curbside voting and the preponderance of secure drop boxes for absentee ballots.

The convenience is astounding and hopefully will result in a record turnout, but having lived elsewhere (La Salle and Whiteside counties, as well as Iowa), I recognize the privilege at work. Illinois mandates things like accommodations for people with disabilities or for whom English isn’t a primary language, but as the dust settles on this election state legislators should be talking to county clerks and voters to begin planning for future elections so voting is as simple and safe as possible for everyone, regardless of home address.

My vote is for more drop boxes (perhaps a law stipulating a number tied to population, or assigning one to each municipal building), even better if new ones could be built in Illinois. They’re less expensive than staffing early voting sites, although for security it’s hard to beat seeing the election judges in person and individually feeding your ballot into a reader.

Counting and processing advance ballots is another topic, surely explored deeper in coming weeks. But just as politicians already are in campaign season, election administration doesn’t take a holiday. 

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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November 4, 2020 at 10:15AM

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