Three good reasons to vote early in Cook County

A new polling system, new voting-related employees and, you guessed right, coronavirus are all good reasons to cast your ballot in advance.

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Voters wait at a polling station at the University of Southern California on March 3. Some California voters were waiting in long lines because of technical glitches connecting to a statewide voter database — or too many users trying to cast ballots at once.

Stefanie Dazio/AP

For three good reasons, you might want to vote early this year, or by mail, in Chicago and the rest of Cook County on March 17.

• First, Chicago and Cook County are rolling out a new voting system. It is expected to improve voting security, but it might also result in Election Day snags. Election judges in some locations might not be fully comfortable with it, we’re told, and could have trouble setting it up and making it work.

• Second, no one knows what impact the spread of the coronavirus might have on voter turnout — and the turnout of judges and poll watchers — during the March 17 primary. The virus could be a fading news story by then, or it could result in a shortage of judges and long lines. Conversely, a fear of catching the bug could depress voter turnout.

Voting by mail

How to vote by mail

In Chicago:

  • Apply at
  • Return your ballot by mail
  • Use the online system to track the return of your Vote By Mail ballot

In suburban Cook County:

Apply at

You will need:

  • Your driver’s license or state identification number
  • The last four digits of your Social Security Number
  • The address to which you would like your ballot mailed
  • An email address

• Third, a suit filed in federal court by Michael Shakman alleges that Cook County’s new clerk, Karen Yarbrough, who is responsible for running suburban county elections, has improperly weeded out longtime employees, some of whom had decades of experience in running elections. The loss of those old hands, we’re told, could make for a bumpier Election Day in some suburbs.

Fortunately, Chicago and suburban Cook have rolled out a technologically advanced vote-by-mail system. You no longer need to provide a reason, such as a physical limitation, to get a mail-in ballot. We can all vote now from the comfort of home. The new system will track those ballots, which have “intelligent” bar codes, to make sure they’re counted.

In Colorado, everyone votes by mail, and it has turned out to be extremely popular, while saving money and significantly boosting turnout, said Amber McReynolds, CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute. McReynolds ran Denver elections for more than 13 years and designed Colorado’s system.

If you’d like to vote by mail, apply for a ballot today. Technically, the deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Thursday, but if the ballot doesn’t arrive at your home by Election Day, you will have to vote in person at your polling place and fill out an affidavit saying you never got your mail-in ballot. If it does arrive on time, you must mail it back by Election Day.

You can vote early in person in Chicago at 52 early voting sites, and in suburban Cook County at 52 other locations. Expanded early voting started on March 2.

To find your early voting site, go to in Chicago or in suburban Cook County.


“I can remember when I did not have the right to vote,” said Nancy Glenn Griesinger, second from right, when asked why she waited so long in line to vote March 3, at Texas Southern University in Houston. After 10 p.m., a line of people still stretched out of the Robert James Terry Library as they waited to cast their votes.

Jon Shapley/Houston Chronicle via AP

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