New Champaign County clerk's only problem in first election: Too few voters

 

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CHAMPAIGN — Preliminary results indicate turnout was down Tuesday in Champaign County compared with similar local consolidated elections.

Just over 17,000 ballots were cast Tuesday, or 13.27 percent of the 128,000 registered voters in the county.

Four years ago, 21,839 ballots were cast, or about 19 percent, and eight years ago, 20,890 ballots were cast, or about 17 percent.

In 2007, 18,897 people voted, or about 16 percent.

YearVotesRegistered VotersTurnout
200718,897115,01416.4%
201120,890123,04917.0%
201521,839113,69519.2%
201917,014128,21513.3%

"It's not what I anticipated," said county Clerk Aaron Ammons, who was sworn in to his position Dec. 1 after he made voter access one of his top campaign priorities. "I thought we would see an increase."

He said consolidated elections in general don't get enough attention, but he didn't have an explanation for the below-average turnout Tuesday.

"I'm a bit surprised because I thought we would see an uptick with vote-by-mail and the Mahomet school board race," Ammons said. "So I'm shocked that that isn't the case."

Ammons said there weren't any major problems on his first Election Day in charge of voting.

"There's always some sort of issue, some small thing, or maybe somewhat of even a larger issue that may arise, but we just deal with it as quickly and efficiently as we possibly can," Ammons said shortly after polls closed Tuesday.

He said the issues ranged from election judges having the wrong charger for their laptop to trouble connecting to the clerk's mobile wireless hotspots.

At the Activities and Recreation Center on the University of Illinois campus, "we saw a bit of a struggle today in the basement because we couldn't connect to our MiFis that we wanted to, so we ended up having to use the Wi-Fi at the ARC," Ammons said. "We want to try to be more consistent with our own Wi-Fi connection."

He also said none of the polling locations ran out of ballots.

"In an election like this, it's difficult sometimes to guesstimate exactly how many you're going to get," he said. "We had a couple locations we had to run things out to, but no one ran out."

After polls closed on his first Election Day, Ammons marveled at all the different steps in the process.

"It's one thing to run a campaign; it's another thing to run an election," he said. "There's so many different steps. ... From getting the ballots correct, to making sure election judges are trained, to making sure the locations are there."

After a fire gutted Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church in January, for example, Ammons had to move that polling place across the street to Leek & Sons Funeral Home.

"It wasn't the ideal location, from many respects, but it was right across the street, so it worked out fine," Ammons said.

At the Illini Union, as expected, turnout was much lower than last fall's midterm election, when lines stretched down three flights of stairs.

"It's been pretty steady. I wouldn't call it busy," said Dave Stevens, an election judge at that location, where voting was on the first floor this time around. "There hasn't been a line at any point."

Stevens, a veteran who is now a political-science major at the age of 33, said he signed up to be a judge because "I just think everyone should vote. It's really important."

"I called up and volunteered, and they put me through training, and now I'm an election judge," he said.

He said there were no major hiccups at the Union.

"We haven't had any issues as far as that were insurmountable," Stevens said.

At Twin City Bible Church, 806 W. Michigan Ave., U, election judge Frank Modica said turnout was "fair" and comparable to other consolidated elections he's been a judge for.

"We had a fair number of people," he said. "We had mostly neighborhood people. My impression was very few students. I've never been at this precinct before, so I don't know proportionately how many students vote in this precinct."

And he also said there were no major issues.

"It's never perfect, but the machine tabulated everything, and we didn't have to mess with anything, and we had all the ballots we needed," Modica said.