Early voting, vote-by-mail see dramatic increase across central Illinois

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CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — As election night gets closer, the amount of votes keep piling in.

Voter turnout has increased tremendously this election season. Central Illinois election officials say their teams have got their hands full, largely in part to vote-by-mail ballot applications

“We’re up like 900% from 2016. We’ve sent out over 31,000 and we’ve got back over 14,000,” said Thomas Bride, Executive Director of the Peoria County Election Commission.

“We have received almost 15,000 requests when our average is about 700 or 800,” said McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael.

Michael said her office is receiving hundreds of vote-by-mail ballot applications returned every day.

Another surge of votes has been from early voting.

McLean County voters — including the City of Bloomington — have seen nearly between 5,000 and 6,000 early voters.

Bloomington Election Commission Executive Director Tim Mitchel said 2,872 Bloomington voters (which are processed completely separate from the rest of McLean County) have already voted early.

Peoria County has seen over 5,000 and Tazewell County has seen 2,403.

“We have currently processed 18,732 Vote-By-Mail Applications and mailed out their ballots,” said Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman. “Our Vote-By-Mail Ballots received back currently sits at 3,709.”

A large topic that circulates every election cycle is — do dead people vote?

Thomas Bride says not anymore.

“The State Board of Elections matches up the voter registration roles for the whole state against the death records in Springfield,” Bride said. “There’s a match there to make sure if somebody died in Illinois, that person is flagged in our system that they’ve passed away.”

“It does more than just matching names and some information, it does some pretty smart matching using lots of different information,” Bride continued.

This comes after the State of Illinois entered into a group called “ERIC,” Electronic Registration Information Center, which has over 30 states involved in the program.

When you go to the polls this season, you might see some “poll watchers.” Bride said this is nothing new.

“It’s in the word. They’re just to watch. They can have a discussion with the election judges if they have concerns, but they don’t get to overrule anyone,” Bride said. “You may have a candidate running from an office, they want poll watchers at a specific polling place. They get credentials from us, they assign this person to go there.”

“People need to have credentials to do that,” Bride stated. “The concern we do have, you can’t just show up at polls and think you’re going to watch. You’ll need credentials to be in the polling place.”

McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said her team is hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

“It seems like strange things are happening every year. So we actually formed a “what if” team of election judges,” Michael said. “It’s almost a what if — worse case scenarios — or what are the oddest things that could happen.”

Michael said if the systems break down, her county, will find a way to make sure the voting process can still continue.

Bride said if you die after your vote is processed, it will still count.

“If you come in and early vote and die on your way out the door, your vote counts. The vote-by-mail ballot, once we get it back, we verify the signature. At that point it’s separated, so there’s no way to go back and get it,” Bride said.

Michael said this weekend starting from noon to 6:00 p.m., Eastland Mall will become a polling place.

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