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ELECTION 2018

Early voting off to a strong start in Decatur, but not for all in Illinois

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CHICAGO — Early voting for the primary election got off to a strong start in Macon County, while millions of voters elsewhere in the state didn't have the option because of pending candidate challenges.

Sixty-three people cast their ballots on Thursday at the downtown Decatur office of Macon County Clerk Steve Bean, who said that's a good turnout. Typically, the first day draws in 30 or 40 people, he said. Most of the early voters pulled Democratic ballots.

"I think the sheriff's contest is really driving things," Bean said. "We had a lot of Democrats come in for that race. The 101st House is also bringing people in on the Republican side."

The sheriff's face features two Democrats, Tony Brown and Jon Butts. The winner will face Republican Jim Root in the November election. All three are top lieutenants in the sheriff's office.

Three Republicans are vying to represent the 101st House District, a seat held by Forsyth Republican Bill Mitchell for the past 20 years. The candidates are Todd Henricks of Cerro GordoDan Caulkins of Decatur and Randy Keith of Monticello. The winner will face Democrat Jen McMillin in November. 

Other contested races for Macon County voters in at least one party include county clerk, county treasurer and the 13th Congressional District.

The state's four most-populous counties have delayed the start of in-person early voting, with Cook and DuPage waiting until as late as Feb. 21 in order to get final decisions on several candidate challenges. Lake County plans to start Feb. 16 and Will County election officials say they'll keep voters updated on their website and hope to be ready within days of a decision. But elsewhere, particularly in smaller counties downstate, clerks proceeded Thursday, offering caveats to voters who want to cast ballots. The result could be confusion for voters.

One candidate ballot challenge has statewide impact. A judge ruled Democratic attorney general candidate Scott Drury can't be on the ballot over questions about his filing of a candidate economic disclosure statement. However, his name will be allowed to remain while he appeals. If Drury is ultimately ruled off, votes for him won't be counted, though he could still run as a write-in candidate.

Because of that pending decision and others, election officials in the city of Chicago said they weren't ready by Thursday, in order to have time to test out equipment and prepare ballots in four languages. Clerks in surrounding Cook County and three others nearby followed suit, affecting nearly 4.5 million registered voters.

However, other county clerks ready to proceed.

"I'm moving forward. I don't want to delay my voters an opportunity," said Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza.

There are roughly 182,000 registered voters in southwestern Illinois' Madison County, where two candidate challenges are pending. Ming-Mendoza said voters were notified of the issues.

Election officials in far southern Illinois' Pope County, where there are about 3,000 registered voters, and eastern Illinois' Vermillion County, home to roughly 29,000 registered voters, plan to follow suit. In Central Illinois' Sangamon County, where there are about 138,000 registered voters, Clerk Don Gray said notifications were posted in voting areas and voters pulling Democratic ballots will be told about the Drury race.

The Illinois State Board of Elections did not have the total number of counties that were delaying but executive director Steve Sandvoss sent a note Wednesday seeking notification from those that weren't going to start on time. Though the decision to delay is up to each jurisdiction, he "strongly encouraged" them to start early voting in a "timely manner."

Fallout from a delay in early voting could be tough to gauge.

Campaigns involved in the March 20 primary haven't been pushing the option the same way as years past and turnout in midterm primaries, with contests for statewide offices such as governor and congressional races, is usually low.

In 2014, roughly 18 percent of the state's approximately 7.5 million registered voters cast primary ballots. In the 2016 presidential primary, Illinois had far higher turnout at roughly 46 percent.

Herald & Review staff writer Ryan Voyles contributed to this story. 

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