Voters in some Illinois counties experienced hourslong wait times Thursday while trying to cast their ballots in the general election on Illinois’ first day of early voting.
A limited number of polling places in counties surrounding Chicago opened Thursday, including in DuPage, Lake, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will. Suburban Cook County and Chicago won’t begin in-person early voting until October, though election boards began to send mail-in ballots to some of the more than 1.7 million voters who applied for one and were approved.
Many Illinois election authorities had encouraged early voting because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but some county officials said they hadn’t anticipated the level of turnout that occurred on Thursday, with lines that in some cases stretched hundreds of people long.
Lorraine Leiser, 73, of Glendale Heights, said she waited with her son at the DuPage County Fairgrounds in Wheaton for about three hours to vote. She said she felt safest voting in person with a paper ballot given recent speculation about possible delays using the U.S. Postal Service.
Leiser said she had voted early in past elections but had never seen such lines as she did on Thursday.
“My son actually mentioned, ‘You know, Mom we haven’t seen anybody leave the line,’” Leiser said. “Everybody was determined to vote today.”
The Wheaton site was the only early voting location operating Thursday in DuPage County. By the end of the day, 660 voters had cast their ballots to vote at the location, which at times saw lines that stretched around the county fairgrounds.
Adam Johnson, chief deputy of the DuPage County clerk’s office, said the longer wait times were due to the unprecedented number of people who came out to vote.
“We were prepared for the possibility that there would be a large turnout,” Johnson said, “but even then we did not anticipate the number of voters who ended up showing up.”
Kane County voters also saw lengthy wait times. At the county clerk’s office, which is one of two early voting sites that opened in the county Thursday, about 360 people had voted in person by the end of the day.
That’s up from the usual approximately 30 to 40 people who cast their ballots on the first day of early voting, Kane County Clerk John Cunningham said.
“We had lines going from one building to the next,” Cunningham said.
In Will County, more than 500 residents voted by the afternoon, up from about 138 residents who voted on the first day of early voting in 2016.
The record-high turnout in these counties meant some polling places stayed open longer than expected.
The Wheaton polling place in DuPage was set to close about 4:30 p.m. Thursday, but it stayed open past the planned closing time because people were still waiting in line to vote. Johnson said that’s an issue that has not come up before during early voting.
“This is completely unprecedented voter behavior,” Johnson said.
Other than longer wait times, election officials said the day ran relatively smoothly. DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek said officials were “quite happy" with how early voting went.
“Though the line of voters snaked through the Fairgrounds parking lot today, people were patient, they practiced social distancing, and everyone — voters, poll workers, and my staff — worked together to make this first day run smoothly,” Kaczmarek said in a Thursday news release.
Johnson said it’s hard to anticipate whether Thursday’s turnout was an initial rush or if there will be sustained demand for voting before the additional sites open.
He said residents should know they have many options to vote, including applying and choosing to cast a mail-in ballot or waiting for some of the additional polling sites to open in mid-October or on Election Day.
“If large crowds continue to come out on these first few days then we’ll accommodate them all,” Johnson said. “But this is not how the opening of early voting has ever gone before.”
The Daily Southtown’s Alicia Fabbre contributed.
©2020 the Chicago Tribune
Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.