This is the first presidential election in Illinois that voters can take advantage of early voting. Officials say this year 34 percent of Chicago residents between the ages of 18 and 34 are registered to vote.
The number of early voters in Lake, DuPage and Cook couties are exceeding expectations. In Chicago, voter registration is at its highest level in 16 years.
The head of the city's board of election commissioners says Election Day turnout may set a new record, and that may be fueled in large part by younger voters who've registered in big numbers.
At the Chicago Board of Elections Monday, the lines are long. They run out into the hall, but they do move. They are voters, taking advantage of a last-chance opportunity to register, and then immediately cast their ballots. In the city of Chicago, the number of registered voters has jumped by nearly 178,000 since the primary, and almost half of those came in the first week of October.
"Never in our history have we ever witnessed 83,000 new registrations in one week," said Langdon Neal, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
And many of those new voters are young adults like Andre Lindsey - about to vote for the first time.
"It'll be a much better future if more young people come out and vote, and you know, be noticed," he said.
An overview of the voting electorate in the city of Chicago now shows that 34 percent are young adults ages 18 to 34.
"I just think it's really important to get our voice out there. It's just as important as everybody else's. We're excited about this election," said Adriane Bookwalter, voter.
"If you come after a period where people are disappointed, it'll be easier to rally them," said Mike Lawrence, voter.
Early voting, which lasts through October 30, continues to break records. More than 64,000 people have voted early in the city. Better than 50,000 more voted in suburban Cook County. And they're doing it for obvious reasons.
"To avoid long lines on voting day. basically that's it," said Yvette Coleman, early voter.
This is the Election Day polling place for the 9th Precinct of the 42nd Ward downtown. A record 1,700 people were registered to vote there. Other precincts are seeing record numbers, too.
"We'll be doing the best we can, but in certain precincts, we'll expect to see lines," Neal said.
Early voting is meant to ease polling place congestion on Election Day, but in some locations, there'll still be lines because of the jump in registered voters. If there is a record turnout in the city, as Neal suggests, there might be, it'll be driven in part by younger voters. And that, says Neal, serves to shatter the notion that young voters won't vote because they feel disenfranchised, like their vote is meaningless.
Young voters spur turnout records
One hundred forty thousand have voted in Cook County so far, and Monday saw a single-day record with close to 23,000 voters casting their ballots. In Lake County, Ill., so far, more than 24,000 residents have voted early - the most ever. And DuPage County recorded its biggest day last Friday with close to 4,000 early voters. Kane County is also breaking records.
And first-time voters are coming out in force.
"This is the first time that I've seen people engage a year and a half before this election because we're getting to an age where we realize that the different laws and everything that's gone on really affects us," said college student Ernest Ledbetter.
Speaking before students at DePaul University Monday night, Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile credited Barack Obama for getting young people engaged.
"Sen. Obama tapped into something that has transformed this country, a country that once was apathetic about elections, and they're now excited about the prospect of new leadership," Brazile said.
But that does not mean all students who are eager for change are backing Obama.
"The feeling of wanting things different in this country, and I think I'm personally voting for John McCain," said student Anthony Pro.