Illinois Early Voting Sees Record Number of Ballots Cast

The number of Illinoisans who voted early, before Election Day, has reached record levels.

As of Monday morning -- the last day of early voting -- 1.267 million voters had cast their ballots statewide. When vote by mail and grace period ballots are included, that figure is about 1.6 million, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections website.

In Chicago, the in-person early voting tally topped 286,000, easily breaking the previous record set in the 2008 presidential election when early votes in President Barack Obama's hometown totaled a little more than 260,000.

Early voting, which began on Sept. 29, also reached a new high in suburban Cook County, where more than 320,000 people had cast their ballots, compared to 228,695 in the 2012 presidential election and 226,084 in 2008.

The record number of Illinoisans casting ballots ahead of Election Day has been attributed in large part to an extended voting period, longer polling hours and heightened interest in the presidential contest between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Scott Kennedy, who runs the website Illinois Elections Data, said in an email "convenience, availability and the opportunity to put the election behind you all combine to increase the appeal of early voting."

While there is some consensus early voting is favoring Democrats on the ballot, Kennedy said he isn't certain one party is benefitting over the other considering an estimated 30 percent of vote came early.

"Beyond just the raw totals of how many early voters there are it's important to know who is voting early, the campaigns have this information in their voter files but us laypeople don't have that granular detail so it's hard to say for sure," Kennedy said.

"I think the increase in participation has more to do with convenience than necessarily an indication of high voter enthusiasm and it's inconclusive whether either party is the beneficiary, but the areas of the state with the greatest population density tend to have the most early voting locations and those areas typically favor Democrats," he added.

Kevin Lampe, executive vice president of Kurth Lampe, a Democratic public affairs firm, said he wasn't impressed with the GOP's ground game in the Chicago suburbs, and believes Democrats have done a much better job at targeting and motivating voters.

Lampe also thinks people are underestimating women voters, noting the ballot is dominated by female candidates.

"Female voters are flexing their political muscle and rightfully so," Lampe said. "The era of the white male is over."

But early voting isn't the only thing seeing historic numbers in Illinois.

As of Monday, total voter registration stood at 8.028 million, and that figure likely will increase as residents can register to vote through Election Day under the state's new same-day voter registration law.

In late October, voter registration surpassed the previous record of 7.789 million voters who were registered in the 2008 general election.