JOLIET – Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots and her staff are staying busy as they work to comply with an unfunded state mandate ahead of the March 15 primary that requires certain Illinois counties to offer same-day voter registration at every polling place.
Start-up costs carry a price tag of more than $1 million for just Will County when taking into account the required staff time, printed materials, additional training for election judges, and the installment of Internet capabilities, among other factors, Schultz Voots said.
“All these little things add up,” Schultz Voots said, noting how extension cords alone cost $4,000.
The new law requires Schultz Voots to equip the county's 300 polling places with electronic poll books — or computer tablets with voting and registration capabilities. The law only applies to counties with a population of 100,000 or more, or those already using electronic poll books.
For the past two weeks, staff have been meticulously color coding the electronic poll books and accessories in hopes of minimizing confusion on Election Day when volunteer judges hold the responsibility of getting the tablets up and running.
“Some people think we wave a magic wand and everything gets done,” Schultz Voots said.
Schultz Voots' office has entered into a $878,019 contract with Election Systems & Software — known as ES&S — to comply with the changes. As part of that contract, the 640 tablets — two for each precinct — is costing Will County $553,600.
“In some ways, the cost to the county is falling onto the taxpayers,” she said.
Schultz Voots said she is concerned that the cost outweighs the benefit of the few expected to take advantage of same-day voter registration.
For example, only 736 county residents took advantage of the option in the November 2014 election. That's compared to the 388,057 voters registered in the county at the time.
“I think that says a lot,”Schultz Voots said.
Taking only the $878,019 contract into consideration, that equates to about $1,200 for every one person who registered on Election Day last year.
To mandate this during a presidential election year places more pressure on county clerks because of the higher turnout, she said. She said lawmakers should have considered requiring the books at certain precincts to cut costs.
Schultz Voots said she is also concerned the Internet connection won't be sufficient in rural precincts or in voting locations in basements and lower levels.
"If this poll book goes down for any reason, it's going to delay voting and cause lines," she said.
Grundy County Clerk Kay Olson said she began in 2013 using electronic poll books at each of the county's 40 precincts, but those devices do not yet have voter registration capabilities.
That means those tablets will need software upgrades totaling about $40,000, she said.
Olson said she initially thought Grundy County was in the clear because when the state law was first crafted, it only applied to counties of 100,000 population or more.
But an amendment followed requiring counties to comply if they're already using poll books.
Both Olson and Schultz Voots urged people to register ahead of time to minimize lines and complications on Election Day.
Residents may register to vote online, in person at the local election authority office or at driver’s license facilities, with deputy registrars who are appointed in each jurisdiction, or via mail using the Illinois Voter Registration Application available in English and Spanish, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
WHAT YOU NEED
In order to register to vote in Illinois, at least 17 years old on or before the primary election and be at least 18 years old by Election Day; a U.S. citizen; a resident of your precinct at least 30 days before Election Day.
HOW TO VOTE
While voters can register and vote on Election Day now, would-be voters are encouraged register prior to Election Day by visiting their County Clerk's office. People can vote prior to Election Day using one of the following options:
• Vote-by-Mail Voting
• Early Voting
• Grace Period Voting
GENERAL PRIMARY ELECTION DATES
• Feb. 4: First day for sending mail-in ballots to voters
• Feb. 16: Last day for voter registration
• Feb. 17: First day of voter registration grace period
• Feb. 29: First day for early voting
• March 10: Last day for receiving mail-in ballots
• March 14: Last day for early voting
• March 15: Election Day and last day for grace period registration