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Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Thousands of ballots yet to be counted as deadline approaches

Heaven forbid the nation’s political eyes turn to Illinois.

That statement could have several meanings, but in this moment the issue is uncounted ballots. 

The Illinois State Board of Elections’s website elections.il.gov maintains a running tally of uncounted ballots for 108 jurisdictions: all 102 counties plus the cities of Bloomington, Chicago, Danville, East St. Louis, Galesburg and Rockford.

As of Sunday evening, the total of uncounted ballots was 340,541. The vast majority — 286,078, or 84% — are unreturned absentee ballots. Those can be counted if they are received today provided they carry a postmark of Nov. 3 or earlier. At this point it’s quite likely most of those aren’t coming back, but imagine the outcry if the presidency or control of the U.S. House or Senate hung in our balance?

Aside from those ballots we may never see, there still are 54,463 uncounted ballots in the other categories, including 25,099 vote-by-mail ballots. That represents 7.37% of the outstanding total untouched despite seven full business days since the election. The biggest laggards are Chicago (6,763), Lake County (6,533), Winnebago County (5,158) and St. Clair County (1,845).

Also on the list are 21,399 provisional ballots. These are votes cast by people who registered at their polling place on Election Day, those whose registration was challenged, who registered offsite but didn’t bring a photo identification or who tried to vote in person after requesting a mail-in ballot without surrendering the uncompleted document. Also, regardless of registration status, anyone who voted in a polling place ordered to stay open after 7 p.m. would’ve cast a provisional ballot.

Provisional ballots will be counted only if election officials verify registration status, and counties should send voter identification cards to anyone who adequately completed the application. If you’re expecting one, plan to follow up in a few weeks.

The ISBE also reports three uncounted early voting ballots — two in Bond County and one in East St. Louis — as well as 7,962 Election Day ballots still uncounted, which seems implausible. The state credits 6,749 of those to Moultrie County, but that county’s website says it counted all 6,749 — 1,163 in the mail, 1,809 early and 3,777 at the polling place. Hopefully that’s the type of irregularity that will be ironed out once all the dust settles.

Although counting ends today (fingers crossed, I guess?) the results aren’t certified until Dec. 4. A few races are separated by fewer votes than ballots remaining, but everything should be finalized before new terms are set to begin. The biggest issues (tax referendum, several federal races, Supreme Court) are clear enough by now, and other states have their own backlogs.

Still, the remaining uncertainty indicates inefficiencies worth addressing before consolidated elections next spring.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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