In-person early voting overtakes mail-in ballots for first time

Election official says snail mail isn’t a sure thing to get ballots postmarked by Election Day.

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Voters wait outside the Bucktown-Wicker Park library to cast ballots. Election officials urged voters to check their polling place before setting out Tuesday as some locations had changed since the last election.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

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A line of over 100 early voters, many scrolling through phones, snaked through the Bucktown-Wicker Park branch of the Chicago Public Library and out to the chill Monday evening.

Melissa Thomey, 28, waited for more than two hours to vote. She said she cast her vote early because she’s going to be following election results as they unfold Tuesday. She scrolled through Reddit to pass the time and listened to the “Girls Gotta Eat” podcast.

“I kind of want to just be able to tune into the news and be there for that,” she said, adding that the line was longer than she had anticipated.

Early voting has overtaken the number of ballots being cast by mail for the first time in the last two election cycles, the city’s top election official said Monday.

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Voters at the Bucktown-Wicker Park library waited more than two hours Monday, the final day of early voting in the midterm election.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

As of Sunday night, 103,205 mail ballots had been returned, Marisel A. Hernandez, chair of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said at a news conference.

A total of 134,014 people had cast ballots in person, she said, noting a surge of early voters in the last week.

Hernandez also offered a warning Monday to the approximately 105,000 voters who have mail-in ballots that might be in a desk drawer at home and have yet to be returned and counted: Snail mail is a gamble for anyone seeking to have their ballot counted so close to Election Day.

“If you are still planning to put your ballots in the mail, we caution our voters there is no guarantee that at this point it will be postmarked by Nov. 8, and to be counted it must be postmarked by or before Nov. 8,” she said.

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To ensure they get counted, Hernandez said vote-by-mail ballots should be taken directly to a post office, and voters should ask a clerk at the counter to postmark it.

An easier option would be to drop off vote-by-mail ballots at secure drop boxes at early voting locations in each ward or downtown at the voting super site at Clark and Lake streets.

On Election Day, drop boxes will also be available at Wrigley Field, the United Center and Wintrust Arena.

She also urged voters who will be casting ballots at the 946 precinct polling places that will be open on Election Day to double-check where their precinct polling place is because many locations have changed since the last election.

Voters can go to chicagoelections.gov or call (312) 269-7900 to check.

Hernandez pointed out that the voter tally from Sunday, with two days to go before the election, lagged behind that of the last election cycle in 2018 by 37,000 votes, but she predicted a strong finish would more than make up the difference.

Dozens of people wait in line inside the Bucktown - Wicker Park Library to cast their ballot on the last day of early voting, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

Dozens of people wait in line inside the Bucktown - Wicker Park Library to cast their ballot on the last day of early voting, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

“I think this is the big push, and people realize how important this election is on various levels ... and every vote counts,” she said.

Devon Carlson’s wait was just under two hours to vote at the Bucktown-Wicker Park library. She listened to the “Serial” podcast.

Carlson, 28, cast her vote early to “get it out of the way,” she said.

“I didn’t want there to be a ton of pressure on me tomorrow. I had planned on voting early, especially because normally it’s crazy on actual voting day,” Carlson said. “I wanted to rest easy.”

Carlson said she didn’t enjoy waiting in line for that long to vote but added that having a say in who represents you in government is worth being uncomfortable for a while.

“Yeah my feet were getting tired, I was starting to fall asleep, but it has to get done,” Carlson said. “If you have this mindset that it’s too much work, you don’t feel like waiting in line, that’s how we end up with a government that we don’t like.”

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