Illinois voters will no longer have to wait until Election Day to cast their ballots, Cook County Clerk David Orr said Tuesday.
On Monday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed a bill that will allow residents to vote in person at a designated location before Election Day without having to provide a reason or excuse. The early voting legislation promoted by Orr is part of a larger election reform package that takes effect prior to the March 21, 2006, gubernatorial primary election.
Under the bill (HB 1968), “no-excuse” early voting will begin 22 days prior to the election and end the Thursday before. Absentee voting will still be allowed by mail. However, any qualified voter applying to vote absentee by mail would have to provide a reason as required under current law.
More than 30 states allow no-excuse early voting at the office of their local election authority or at designated voting locations.
Orr hopes that people will take advantage of the in-person early voting provision in Illinois.
“This is going to make voting more convenient for the elderly and people who have busy schedules,” Orr said. “It will also take the pressure off of polling places and make lines shorter at the polls.”
Registered voters who show proof of identification will be able to vote at designated sites in suburban Cook County or at Orr’s downtown office using one of the county’s new touch screen voting machines.
Offices administering early voting will be required to provide the names of early voters to the election authority for each jurisdiction. The names of early voters would be made public on a daily basis.
The counting of ballots voted during the 22-day period would take place after the polls close on Election Day just as absentee ballots are counted now.
Other pieces of election reform pushed by Orr were also approved by the governor on Monday. They include:
-- Allowing people who changed their names to vote. Such voters, primarily women who have changed their last names, can cast a ballot if they complete a legal affidavit in the polling place. The affidavit will then be forwarded to the election authority, which updates the voter’s registration record.
Orr was outraged after the November 2004 election when state law forced the Clerk’s office to disqualify 236 provisional ballots cast in suburban Cook County as a result of name changes.
-- Allowing election judges time off work. This will help enable election judges to take an excused absence from work on Election Day without having to take a vacation day.
-- Eliminating local canvassing boards. Because local election authorities conduct elections and produce the results, requiring local canvassing boards to certify results is a process that is entirely ceremonial and no longer needed. (HB 2417)
Earlier this month, Blagojevich signed a bill that will extend the counting of absentee ballots. Under the bill, absentee ballots that are postmarked before Election Day and received by local election authorities up to 14 days after the election would permit voters who cast ballots in good faith to have their votes counted. (HB 115)
Orr plans to continue to press for other reform issues which weren’t part of the bill, including one that would permit voters who registered by mail to vote absentee by mail the first time they vote, as long as they have provided the proper identification.
Orr is also pushing for a provision that would allow same-day day registration, which would increase voter participation and enfranchise more people who are qualified to vote, including younger people who are more transient.