'Do your part': Q&A with Peoria County elections leader as early voting starts May 19
The June 28 primary is quickly approaching and early voting begins May 19.
This election, voters will notice a change.
The Peoria County Election Commission recently swapped its aging electronic system for a hybrid paper-based method. When you go to the polls, you will fill out a physical ballot, which will then be scanned and counted by a machine.
Elizabeth Gannon is the assistant executive director of the Peoria County Election Commission.
In a recent interview with Hannah Alani, Gannon explains how the hybrid machines work .... and why she hopes residents turn out for this primary.
Elizabeth Gannon: When the ballot is pulled into the scanner, it will drop into the ballot box. And inside ... the ballot box is locked. The election judges verify in the morning that there are no ballots in it before the polls open. They lock the ballot box up. Throughout the day, the ballots will fall into the ballot box. And then at the end of the night, once all votes have been cast, they will unlock that, pull the bag out, they'll zip it up, seal it, record that seal number, and then bring all of those voted ballots back to the election office.
They will also bring the scanner itself in. And that's actually where the votes are kept. It's a scanner, so it's capturing all of those votes, and then we will pull that information out of the scanner and tabulate from that. Now granted, we do have those paper ballots as a backup that we can go to if, in fact, there is an issue that we run into. Or, if the likelihood of someone asks for a recount, we would go to the paper ballot in those instances.
Hannah Alani: And these are new machines, right? Is this the first election that you'll be using these specific machines?
Elizabeth Gannon: Yes, it is. This is a new Hart paper-based system. Hart was our vendor before with the all electronic voting equipment. But it was at its end of life. We had voted with that for 16 years in Peoria County. So it was it was time to to get a new system in place. And and this is a paper-based system. And we have had a lot of questions as to why we're going back to paper. You know, there are a lot of voters in Peoria County that actually did like our electronic voting equipment. And the reason is, there is nothing ... that meets federal requirements right now, on the market, for us to purchase that is all electronic. So paper based was really our only option.
Hannah Alani: There's a lot of contention over voting in general right now. I mean, this is an issue that's probably going to get kicked up to the Supreme Court this summer. What's your headspace going into this primary election? Do you think people in Peoria County have faith in the system, that they will show up to vote? Or are you having to overcome some of those challenges, too?
Elizabeth Gannon: I feel like Peoria County has faith in us as an Election Commission for properly handling the voting process. And I do feel having many options, different ways that you can vote ... you have vote by mail, you have early voting, you have in-person Election Day voting. So there's lots of different options that you can take advantage of. If you're not comfortable with one way of voting, you can always choose another. With our new system, it is a paper based system. So there is a record of every vote that is cast. And and it is consistent throughout whatever way you choose to vote as well. So I think that's important.
Another important distinction is the voting equipment is never attached to the Internet. So there is no way for someone to hack into that and manipulate votes. It is not attached to the internet at all, not even during the building of the ballots ... to tabulation. At no point during the process does it touch the Internet.
Hannah Alani: I know that primary voting is typically lower than the general election voting. What have the recent voter turnout percentages been here in Peoria County, for primary?
Elizabeth Gannon: Oh, I believe we never get over 40%. So it would be amazing if we could hit that 60-70% mark we do in presidential election years. So we would really like to see more people come out, get involved. I know it is an off-year election. So you're voting for the governor and other state races. But those are just as important as the presidents. And we have local races, as well. So your county board members are going to be on the ballot, all the county races will be there, as well. Just educate yourself before you go and vote.
The sample ballot will be available on our website. You can always call our office if you're unsure of your new district information, because of the census and the redistricting. If you're unsure what districts you fall in now, you could always check your voter registration card because we did just mail out new voter registered registration cards with that information. But you can always call our office too, and we're more than happy to help.
Hannah Alani: Yeah, no, I'm a perfect example of that. I moved a mile down the road, and I'm in a new city council district now.
Elizabeth Gannon: Yes, exactly. It's one of those things that, one side of the street votes on one issue, and the other might vote on a different district. So it's really important to be educated on what you are able to vote on, and who is running for those. And if they align with how you feel on issues, as well.
Hannah Alani: And is there anything else you'd like to blast out to the listeners here, a message for the Peoria community?
Elizabeth Gannon: Voting is such an important part of the democratic process and I really hope that everyone takes advantage of the opportunity. Because not everybody has that opportunity in the world. And I feel like sometimes as Americans we take that for granted. So do your education. Vote. Participate. Do your part, please.