Election board chair wants to shorten early voting period

February 27, 2012 6:35:55 PM PST
The polls opened Monday for Illinois residents who want to cast their ballots early in the March 20th primary.

Six years after Illinois legalized early voting, the chairman of the Chicago election board, Langdon Neal, says his election board and over 100 others around the state are losing millions of dollars because the early voting period is too long.

Neal says the state should consider reducing the number of early voting days from the mandated 18 down to 10 or 11.

"It may be too early to start early voting," Neal said. "The cost of running a citywide election for 18 days versus the number of voters who are participating in those early days, it's far out of kilter."

Neal estimated that reducing early voting by only four days would save the Chicago a half million dollars mostly in staffing, polling place rents and equipment. He would not speculate on how many millions might be saved in Cook and other counties statewide.

"I think that most election jurisdictions would tell you it's not an insignificant number," said Neal.

When it comes to voting, Oscar Byles is no procrastinator. The South Side Chicagoan likes to cast his primary ballot as soon as he possibly can.

"Got it out the way," said Byles after voting Monday. "Once you get it out the way you don't have to worry about it until next time for the general election."

But over three weeks before the March 20th vote at the city election board's flagship polling place at 69 West Washington, there was anything but a rush. During the first hour, there were as many, if not more paid staff on duty than there were voters.

"I know what candidates I want to vote for and I do it," said early voter Doris Gershon.

Gershon, who has voted early every year since 2006, has made a young tradition of doing it downtown on the first day. "I live in Oak Lawn and I come down here for early voting. That's what I do. Every year I did it," she told ABC7.

Chairman Neal, a downtown resident who cast his ballot at the new Museum of Broadcast Communications, says with fewer days, he does not expect early voting to lose in popularity.

"It's obviously something our voters like. We like it, too. We just think its too long," said Neal.

Neal says that he and county election officials elsewhere in the state will approach Springfield with a bill to reduce the number of early voting days. If a bill could be passed during the current legislative session, it likely would not become effective until after the November general election.