Chicago Election Board Chair Marisel Hernandez recently included an unusual warm weather addendum to her regular pre-election pitch encouraging voters to cast ballots in the upcoming Illinois primary: Do so before you leave town.
“If you’re planning on a summer vacation in the coming weeks, choose to vote by mail,” she said.
Hernandez’s vacation plea shows how the shift of the primary election from its usual March perch to June 28 has created a new set of complications for election officials and candidates trying to get people to the polls.
It is the latest Illinois has held a primary since at least the Great Depression — forced back over three months because 2020 U.S. Census Bureau numbers needed for redistricting were late — and arrives less than a week before the Fourth of July holiday.
So even though Illinois voters are faced with pivotal primary races for governor, secretary of state and U.S. congressional seats, as well as scores of down-ballot races, it raises the question: Do voters even know Election Day is coming up, or are their minds already drifting to Wisconsin Dells?
Early voting numbers so far show Chicago totals lagging behind the most recent midterm.
In order to compare with early voting in previous midterms, for the 11 days when early voting was conducted only at a downtown polling place, 1,127 votes were cast this year, according to the city Board of Elections. In that same time in the 2018 midterms, 2,066 votes were cast.
On the first day of citywide early voting this year, 2,337 votes were cast. On 2018′s first citywide day, 3,991 votes were cast.
Hernandez said she expects voter turnout to end up at or around the usual low number for a nonpresidential midterm primary elections.
“I do think that even though people may be on summer vacation, that we’ve gotten the word out, that they’ve taken this into consideration,” she said.
Election officials point out that with fewer people working downtown and more voters becoming familiar with the vote-by-mail process, many of those in-person voters in prior years could simply be tossing their completed ballots in the mailbox.
In DuPage County, Clerk Jean Kaczmarek said her office has already received over 31,900 applications for mail-in ballots, compared with 5,453 such applications prior to the 2018 midterm primary.
“With applications still coming in, the 2022 Primary Election will move into third place for mail ballot applications, behind the 2020 General with 212,903 and 2018 General with 42,338,” Kaczmarek said in an emailed response.
That’s despite the fact there’s no Democratic primary fight for governor, like there was in 2018 when J.B. Pritzker fended off five challengers, including state Sen. Daniel Biss and Kenilworth developer Chris Kennedy.
Instead, a nasty, expensive Republican gubernatorial face-off is drawing most of the attention. That race has evolved into a largely two-man campaign between state Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia and Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin. Others running are business owner Gary Rabine of Bull Valley, venture capitalist Jesse Sullivan of Petersburg, former state Sen. Paul Schimpf of Waterloo and Hazel Crest attorney Max Solomon.
Near Peoria, early voting and requests for vote-by-mail ballots in Tazewell County are running just a bit behind 2018, according to Clerk John Ackerman. While he expects the final numbers for those votes to be “right about the same number or higher” than the last midterm, that’s likely to mean overall lower voter turnout in the election, Ackerman said.
“We would expect to see growth in those areas, and we likely won’t this election,” Ackerman said. “The whole election cycle is thrown off” because of the late June primary, he said.
There are variations in voter interest across the state, proving that old axiom that all politics is local.
In Downstate Sangamon County, which includes the city of Springfield, county Clerk Don Gray said attention to several primary contests is driving increases.
Requests for vote-by-mail ballots are up 60% compared with the 2018 midterms and are even 34% higher than for the 2020 presidential primary, Gray said.
He pointed to high voter turnout for two hotly contested congressional primaries that touch parts of the county.
There’s the newly drawn 13th Congressional District, which has no incumbent on the ballot but features four Republican hopefuls and two Democrats in the respective primaries. And the 15th Congressional District has a Republican primary faceoff between U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville and U.S. Rep. Mary Miller of Oakland. They’re running against each other because the congressional districts were redrawn following the census.
“That race is obviously getting a lot of money and attention,” Gray said.
Former President Donald Trump is traveling to Illinois on Saturday to campaign for Miller.
Meanwhile, the hotly contested Democratic primary to succeed retiring Secretary of State Jesse White holds special significance around Springfield, where lots of employees of that office work, Gray said.
“And then we’re just seeing people getting more used to vote by mail and early voting, and more confident in it with each election,” Gray said.