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Voting by mail is increasingly popular heading into Illinois' primaries

Election workers sort through unprocessed vote-by-mail ballots at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office on Monday.
Ben Adler
/
Capital Public Radio
Election workers sort through unprocessed vote-by-mail ballots at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office on Monday.

In recent years, voting by mail has gone up in central Illinois, giving working people more flexibility when voting and the chance to still have their voice heard during election seasons.

This trend is expected to continue this summer with more people in Peoria County voting by mail ahead of next Tuesday's primary election.

Thomas Bride is the executive director of the Peoria County Election Commission. He said more than 2,000 vote-by-mail ballots have been sent out, and almost 1,000 have been received by the commission.

Bride said that’s 80% higher than where the county was at this point four years ago during the 2018 Illinois primary election.

“Some of this is being driven by people (who) have done it before. A lot of people did it in 2020 for the first time. We also have a permanent vote-by-mail application now people are taking advantage of that isn’t necessarily affecting this election, but it will going forward,” Bride said.

The same can be said for Tazewell County.

John Ackerman is the Tazewell County Clerk. He said 488 vote-by-mail ballots have been returned to the clerk's office.

This puts Tazewell County ahead of where it was at this time during the 2018 primary, but still 40-50% less than the 2020 election.

“Normally, we see a dip in attendance during the off-year election – midterm year election – compared to the presidential election. So, normally we’d look to 2018, but then you throw in that vote by mail was fairly new back then and you throw in the fact that you had the pandemic in 2020. It really skews the numbers, so that makes it difficult for us to have a good comparison."
John Ackerman, Tazewell County Clerk

Ackerman said 2018 is the appropriate year of comparison, because fewer people typically turn out for midterm primary elections.

“Normally, we see a dip in attendance during the off-year election — midterm year election — compared to the presidential election. So, normally we’d look to 2018, but then you throw in that vote by mail was fairly new back then, and you throw in the fact that you had the pandemic in 2020. It really skews the numbers, so that makes it difficult for us to have a good comparison,” Ackerman said.

Tazewell County had 1,042 vote-by-mail ballots in the 2020 primary election.

“In 2020, you had Republicans and Democrats actively voting in the election cycle. We have seen that this election is much stronger in Republican turnout than it is Democrat. I believe in turn because there are more contested races on the Republican ballot than there is on the Democrat ballot in Tazewell County,” Ackerman said. “So, you’re seeing the Eepublican side of the ballot carrying the weight of the entire vote totals where in 2020 and even in 2018, you were seeing a high turnout of Democrats as well.”

Bride said in Peoria County, early voting numbers are slightly below where they were during the 2018 primary election. He said it is difficult to explain the reasoning behind this because this year’s election differs a lot from previous years.

“Instead of in March, it’s in June. A lot of times, a primary is affected by maybe you do or don’t have races specifically to your party in your area, but I also think some of the people that have traditionally voted early in the past, some of those people have switched to vote by mail,” Bride said.

Bride said Thursday is the last day Peoria County citizens can apply to vote by mail. People wanting to vote by mail must drop their ballot off by 7 p.m. on election day.

“Right now, we only have about 45% of them back, so I expect to get a big chunk of those back by Monday or Tuesday. We don’t ever get all of them back,” Bride said.

There were 2,700 individuals utilizing in-person early voting and vote by mail in Tazewell in 2018. As of now, that number is at 1,500, but Ackerman said it typically picks up closer to election day.

This year, in-person early voting is projected to meet 2018 Tazewell County totals.

“Normally, that would tell me that the turnout is lower but again, remember that the Republicans are carrying the full weight of the election on their shoulders rather than having the Democrats involved as well, at least in Tazewell County,” Ackerman said. “So, that skews those numbers as well. I think on election day itself, in the end, we’ll end up above where we were in 2018, but just slightly overall election numbers. We won’t get to where we were in 2020.”

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