CHICAGO (WLS) -- Early voting locations in the Chicago area greatly expanded Monday, with hundreds of polling places opening in all 50 of the city's wards as well as the collar counties.
So far, all signs point to strong early voter turnout at 53 sites open across Cook County ahead of the November 6 midterm election. There are also more early voting locations open in DuPage, Kane, Will, Lake, and McHenry counties.
"If you know how you are going to vote, this is the best week to get it done," said Marisel Hernandez, chair of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. "We have 13 years of data now and it shows that the first days of early voting are always the easiest and the last are always the busiest."
Early voting and registration services are now available for voters at 51 locations throughout the city and 53 locations in suburban Cook County. Officials are expecting record numbers of early voters this year.
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"With fifteen days left, we're in the last mile," said Noah Praetz, director of elections for Cook County Clerk David Orr. "Looks like we're in for a strong and fun finish for candidates and voters alike."
Election officials said so far in Cook County, both in the city and suburbs, they are seeing the beginnings of record-breaking registration and vote-by-mail numbers.
"We love the fact that more and more voters are keeping it simple and making their homes their polling place," Hernandez said.
"Now I'm, like, have to come out here and I have to do something because out of anything that I can possibly do, this is one of the best things and the easiest things I can do," said voter Rae'Vonne Barnes.
Early voting came to Illinois over a decade ago and has grown with each successive election, whether by mail or in person. Officials said early voting and grace period voting accounted for 29 percent of all ballots cast in the March gubernatorial primary. Suburban Cook County now has a record 1,583,911 registered voters, which is 13.2 percent more than in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
The increased numbers are a function of smoother updating of government voting rolls, and a profound interest in the state of America's democracy.
"Now if that is correlated with the (political) divide, then it is correlated, but we are seeing a significant amount of turnout, a significant amount of interest, and we are excited to put on this election," Praetz said.
The hope is by opening the additional early voting sites, more people will be encouraged to cast their ballot.
As of Monday morning, at least 91,000 had requested mail ballots from the Cook County Clerk's office - three times the number of mail ballots returned to the office in the gubernatorial primary.
Mail-in ballots for suburban Cook County voters can be requested using an online application or by calling 312-603-0946. They must be requested by Nov. 1, and must be postmarked by Election Day - Nov. 6 - to be counted.
For more information on voting in the midterm elections, visit the ABC7 voter information guide and for information on the candidates, visit our Meet the Candidates page.
Early voting locations expanded Monday, large turnout expected