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Delays leave suburban Cook voters wondering if their ballots will count

County clerk needs to get ballots recorded in timely manner.

resident drops off a vote-by-mail ballot in a secure drop box on Oct. 2, 2020 in Chicago,
Scott Olson/Getty Images

The mantra you hear around the country is Democrats are the party that wants easy access to the ballot box and every vote counted.

We’re not sure they got the memo in suburban Cook County, where Democratic County Clerk Karen Yarbrough runs the elections.

First, almost 30,000 suburban Cook County people were told just before the Oct. 18 deadline that the county couldn’t verify their online voter registrations, although the county said not to worry, it would catch up.

Next, about 20,000 people who applied for mail-in ballots still had not received them as of early last week, and the delays have continued. One couple emailed a local official on Tuesday to say they had mailed in their applications on Aug. 16 and were still waiting. They said their neighbors were in the same boat.

Then there are those people who mailed in their ballots or deposited them in drop-off boxes only to see them listed online as “not received” a week or weeks after submitting them. According to the clerk’s office, information on 69,000 ballots had been updated on the clerk’s website as of Tuesday, but 73,000 other ballots already in-house still are listed as “not received” because the ballots are not yet logged in. The county says it expects to be caught up by the end of the week.

It’s a pattern: Get behind, then promise to catch up. Meanwhile, all sorts of local officials are inundated with calls from panicked voters.

Yes, we know there is a pandemic and people have requested a record number of mail-in ballots. But other election authorities, including Chicago’s, are getting the job done smoothly. Yarbrough, who brought in her own elections team after taking office in 2018, is letting her constituents down.

People need to know their ballots have been accepted at the clerk’s office. If there’s a question about a signature, they need to know promptly so they can resolve the issue.

If big problems are cropping up now, what happens when the procrastinators start voting? This is a critical election. People want assurance their ballots have been received.

If people’s mail-in ballots are listed online as “not received,” they might try to cast provisional in-person votes. Some election officials say they would accept such votes, but the State Board of Elections says there is no provision in the law for doing so.

The mail-in/drop-off box system was supposed to minimize provisional voting. If large numbers of people vote provisionally because snafus haven’t been sorted out, that will slow down in-person voting and vote tallying, and there might not be enough provisional ballots to go around.

Let’s hope that doesn’t happen. The county clerk’s office has to step up its game — yesterday — and make sure every ballot is processed promptly.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.