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The Will County Clerk’s Office already is expecting a significant increase in demand for mail-in ballots ahead of the November election because of lasting concerns of the coronavirus pandemic.
Charles B. Pelkie, the chief of staff to Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry, said the office already has begun planning to accommodate a “very significant increase” in voting by mail for the general election.
The clerk’s office sent out 12,407 vote-by-mail ballots for the primary election in March, and 10,803 were returned and processed, Pelkie said. The most vote-by-mail ballots the office ever has processed was about 26,000 for the 2016 general election.
Pelkie said he’s expecting the number this November to be about triple that of the 2016 mark. The office is expecting between 75,000 and 100,000 mail-in ballots.
“That is going to be a huge undertaking for this office,” Pelkie said.
Overall in 2016, more than 300,000 people voted in the general election in Will County. Pelkie said doing an election completely by mail wouldn’t be feasible, so in-person options still will have to be available.
“It’s our preference that if [legislators] move toward that, that they phase it in over a number of elections,” he said.
George Pearson, chairman of the Will County Republican Party, said he feels a significant change in voting procedures for November’s election are unnecessary.
“I see no reason to change it,” he said. “[Legislators] have presented no plan to change it.”
Pearson also questioned whether there are adequate resources to ensure a timely and secure election completely determined with mail-in ballots. He pointed to issues with last month’s primary election, during which the Will County Clerk’s Office scrambled to replace dozens of election judges who declined to work as the virus spread throughout the state.
Pelkie conceded the primary election was “extraordinary,” as seven Will County polling locations had to be moved from senior facilities due to the coronavirus pandemic. He said the clerk’s office is reviewing how the primary election played out and what additional resources it will need for November.
Bill Thoman, chairman of the Will County Democrats, said he thinks expanded voting by mail makes “a lot of sense” during a pandemic. Although he conceded it is difficult to judge what might be needed more than six months from now, he agrees that election authorities should be planning now for November.
“I think that’s the way to ensure that [voters are] able to get their voices expressed on the ballot box,” Thoman said.