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In 'burbs, early voting isn't quickly voting
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff

Francine Brottman, with son Eli, 9, of St. Charles casts her early vote at the Kane County circuit clerk's office in St. Charles. The site served more than 500 voters Tuesday.

 

Mary Beth Nolan | Staff Photographer

Philip Wang of Libertyville receives a ballot from election judge Lynn Destry after standing in long lines at the Early Voting Center at Lake County Division of Transportation in Libertyville.

 

Sue Strahl of Libertyville deposits her ballot at the Early Voting Center at Lake County Division of Transportation in Libertyville, where voters stood in long lines.

 

Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

Early voters wait their turn at the Des Plaines city hall as record numbers of voters turn out to cast their ballot before Election Day.

 

BILL ZARS/bzars@ dailyherald.com

Voters at the DuPage County Administration Building in Wheaton clogged voting machines Thursday.

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

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Published: 10/31/2008 9:52 AM

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Long lines kept Chicago-area election officials tabulating ballots well after polls closed Thursday when the 18-day early voting period came to an end.

Some polling sites stayed open as much as two hours late to accommodate voters who had showed up before closing time but had yet to cast a ballot. Most voters didn't mind the wait.

"It's going to be worse on Tuesday," said Lisle resident Sharon Caldwell, who was facing a 35-minute wait Thursday afternoon at Lisle's village hall. "I was going to wait until Tuesday, but I'm not undecided at all."

Voters stood in line at many polling sites, but accommodations were made at other locations to ease the wait.

"A lot of our sites have chairs, and we'll move pregnant women and people with disabilities to the front of the line," said Courtney Greve, a spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr. "Voters don't mind - they're the ones that are pointing out the pregnant women to us. We had one lady voting today whose baby's due date is Nov. 4."

The final day of early voting saw the heaviest turnout yet, election officials said.

"There have been lines for the past several days," said McHenry County Clerk Katherine Schultz, "but nothing compares to what we're seeing right now."

Most election authorities in the area are hopeful 20 percent of the votes cast during this election will be through early voting. Early voting has been allowed in Illinois only since 2006. Past elections have been lucky to muster 10 percent of the vote during early voting.

By Thursday night, roughly 17 percent of the registered voters in Chicago, DuPage County and suburban Cook County had participated in early voting. In Kane County, the figure was more than 25 percent. And 20 percent of the registered voters in Lake County are ahead of Election Day this year. McHenry County election officials were reporting an 11 percent turnout early Thursday but expected the figure to rise.

"Certainly as you look at the future of early voting, we've turned the corner," said DuPage Election Commission Executive Director Robert Saar. "The dynamics of Illinois elections are changed forever. Once early voting hits critical mass like this, it doesn't go back."

But there remain skeptics who worry about the validity of early votes. State law does not require election officials to use early voting results in the mandated hand-audit of 5 percent of the precincts chosen at random.

"Citizens who cast votes early are denied equal protection under the law," said Jean Kaczmarek, co-chairwoman of the DuPage Chapter of the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project. "The election commission should publicize this matter with their early voting promotions and signage."

No major voting irregularities were reported. There were some complaints about voters who registered recently not being in the system fast enough to participate in early voting.

"We're going to work to coordinate to put our system in place with other government bodies who handle voter registration as well to make sure those registrations move through the system much quicker," Saar said.

Candidates also worry that voters are casting ballots before their campaigns have finished. But most early voters say nothing would sway them anyway.

"I could have voted a year ago," said Naperville resident Tim Sullivan.

West Chicago resident Patty Buchanan was in line with 30 minutes to spare Thursday night at the Wayne Township offices in her hometown. She said she didn't make up her mind until last night and had no qualms about picking candidates with five days left.

"Nothing worse can happen," she said. "I've watched my stock account dissolve."

• Daily Herald staff writers Charles Keeshan, Russell Lissau, Joseph Ryan and Josh Stockinger contributed to this report.

Early: Voters don't seem to mind the wait