What We Think: We're still waiting for improved voter turnout

Turnout in our region hasn’t changed that much this century after implementation of liberalized voting laws in Illinois.

A voter enters a booth to fill out his ballot Nov. 8 at the Northland Mall in Sterling.
A voter enters a booth to fill out his ballot Nov. 8 at the Northland Mall in Sterling.

In the past decade, the path to the ballot box has been greatly straightened and smoothed for Illinois voters. 

But based on the voter turnout results Nov. 8 in the region, you would hardly know it. 

Various pieces of legislation that have taken effect since 2006 allow for early voting, voting by mail, grace-period voting, and same-day voter registration. 

And indeed, area voters have embraced these options. 

According to figures posted Nov. 10 on the Illinois State Board of Elections website, Whiteside County voters cast 2,417 early voting ballots, 1,585 mailed-in ballots, and 400 grace-period ballots.

Carroll County’s numbers: 924 early, 547 mail, and 94 grace.

So, what effect have the new options had on overall turnout?

It’s gone up significantly, right?

Not really.

Comparing voter turnout figures from the early part of this century (prior to the voting law liberalization) versus this year's, it’s hard to see much difference.

In 2000 and 2004, Whiteside County voter turnout was 67.9 percent and 69.3 percent, respectively. This year, it was 68.4 percent.

In 2000 and 2004, Carroll turnout was 64.9 and 63.9 percent. This year, it was 68.5 percent.

Of course, expanded options available to voters don’t exist in a vacuum. The presence or absence of competitive races and important issues also impact voter involvement.

It might be that some area voters are just shifting how they vote. Meanwhile, the region continues to wait for a sustained improvement in overall turnout.

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