Cook County predicts more residents will cast absentee ballots in November thanks to new legislation, which allows all registered voters to vote by mail.
“We expect and are ramping up for this to become a much greater portion of our voting,” said Noah Praetz, Deputy Director of Elections for the Cook County Clerk’s office.
“Four years ago there were only about 25,000 absentee ballots returned and I think we could double, triple, even quadruple that this year.”
Cook County is prepared for the absentee ballot increase thanks to a new mail-sorting system introduced in March 2012. The $216,964 machine was paid for by federal grant funds authorized under the Help America Vote Act. The new system processes approximately 10 ballots per minute and has greatly reduced labor costs.
“We have a positive return on our investment with only a year on it,” said Praetz.
Illinois is one of many states using absentee ballots to help cut costs. Thirty-two states and Washington D.C. no longer require voters to provide a reason or excuse to vote by mail. Both Oregon and Washington state are exclusively all-mail voting.
“The per-vote cost of administering a mail in program is tremendously lower than the per-vote cost of precinct voting,” said Praetz.
Absentee voting is now strongly encouraged by the Cook County Clerk’s office. The last day to apply for an absentee ballot is five days before the election, Praetz said.
Other changes this year for Cook County voters include a shorter early voting period. In 2008 approximately 60-65 percent of early voting occurred during the last week of the early voting period. Less than 20 percent took place during week one.
To reduce cost and increase productivity, the early voting period will be Oct. 22 to Nov. 3. Praetz said the clerk’s office predicts this condensed early voting period will satisfy more voters’ needs and potentially increase overall turnout.
Cook County residents also have more voter registration options than in years past. A new state law called “grace period registration and voting” extends the regular voter registration deadline by 21 days. Grace-period registrants are required to register and vote in person at a Clerk’s office location. Regular voter registration ends Oct. 9.
Cook County has 1.4 million registered voters and 1,937 precincts. According to the Clerk’s office, it is one of the largest election jurisdictions in the nation. Voting materials are provided in four languages — English, Spanish, Chinese, and Hindi — as required under the federal Voting Rights Act.