Illinois gives residents several options to register to vote and cast a ballot. With the midterm elections just weeks away, here are some important voting reminders and deadlines.
Midterm elections are generally low-turnout affairs. Because of the enthusiasm gap caused by frustrated left-leaning voters, 2010 figures could be even smaller than usual. This February, less than 30 percent of registered voters went to the polls in Illinois' primary, well below the recent average of about 37 percent. Some estimates suggest a major drop-off in Democratic participation across the Land of Lincoln.
Those that stay home will miss the opportunity to participate in some very consequential races. Yesterday, we previewed the stark contrast offered in the contest for governor. There are several other campaigns that are just as important.
For those wary of jumping into the fray, have no fear. Voting is extremely simple, especially because Illinois gives residents several options to register and cast a ballot. Below, we run through some important voting reminders and deadlines:
The first thing any potential voter must do is register. According to Illinois law, folks must sign up to vote at least 28 days before Election Day to participate. (This year, that date is October 5.) A registrant also has to be at least 18-years old, a U.S. citizen, and a resident of his or her precinct for at least 30 days prior to November 2. Forms are available at a variety of locations: the County Clerk's Office; the Board of Election Commissioner's Office; City, Township, and Village Offices; schools; and public libraries. The Illinois Board of Elections provides relevant information on its registration pamphlet (PDF).
If you miss the October 5 deadline, don't worry. For the last six years, Illinois has offered potential voters a "grace period" to register. During that stretch, a person can show up at limited locations (usually the County Clerk's Office), register to vote, and cast a ballot all in one visit. Thanks to legislation signed into law by Gov. Pat Quinn last year (but fought bitterly by Republicans in the General Assembly), grace period registration now runs for a full three weeks. This year, it extends from October 6 to October 26.
Once you're registered, you can always just show up at your polling place on November 2. (Information about polling locations is available here.) For those with Election Day conflicts (or for those with an aversion to lines), there's always the option to vote early. Over 200 locations offer this service throughout Chicago and the suburbs. (Search for the location closest to your home here.) This year, early voting runs from October 12 to October 28, including both weekends during that stretch.
College students also have greater access to early voting (and grace period registration) on campus now because of a pilot program signed into law this past July requiring that early voting locations be established at high-traffic spots near the state's nine public universities. Despite being written with the uncontroversial intention of boosting turnout among young voters, Republicans voted against this measure in mass, as well. One member even attempted to hijack the bill using the controversial procedural tactic referred to as "hostile sponsorship." Students interested should contact their school about the new sites.
To vote early, Illinoisans don't even need to leave their homes. A law passed in 2009 allows any person to request and vote using an absentee ballot. Previously, voters had to specify a reason for their absence. It's a trend known as "no-excuse absentee voting" and has been shown to increase turnout marginally in the states where it's been tried. (Republicans in the Illinois House, not surprisingly, voted against this bill when it hit the floor last year. Are we sensing a trend here?)
Early voting by absentee ballot opens up this Thursday (September 23). Ballots can be requested (PDF) until October 28 by mail and November 1 in person. Mailed absentee ballots must be postmarked no later than midnight on the night prior to the election.
To get the word out about this new feature, the Equality Illinois Education Project, Rock the Vote, and Roosevelt University have launched the Vote Naked Illinois campaign. Who needs to wear clothes, after all, when voting from the confines of the living room? Below is their first PSA. (A word of warning: The video is probably not safe for all work environments):