UI student leaders' requests for early-voting expansion rejected


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URBANA — Student leaders at the University of Illinois say they have been rebuffed in their effort to get more early-voting locations on campus or extended hours for early voting before the March 20 primary election.

Because the UI will be on spring break beginning March 17, representatives of student groups say that the early-voting period is the only time most students will be able to vote locally, and they expect a higher-than-normal voter turnout this spring.

But County Clerk Gordy Hulten said the early-voting site at the Illini Union will be open for 46 hours between March 13 and 19 and that "at this time we do not anticipate early-voting demand will exceed our capacity at the Illini Union."

The student leaders, including Illini Democrats, Illini Republicans and Illinois Student Government representatives, had asked for early-voting locations at the Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Hall and Activities and Recreation Center in addition to the Union, spokesman Sullivan Peterson-Quinn said.

"We believe that those three locations, geographically speaking, really cover a broad area of campus, the north side, west and east sides. We requested those two additional locations," said Sullivan-Peterson, a member of the student senate. "After the county clerk rejected that request, the dean of students contacted the county clerk requesting one additional location, which also was denied, and requesting an early-voting extension period, extending the period a week before the current March 13 start date. That also was denied."

Hulten said that in the comparable 2014 primary election, 173 ballots were cast in the 10 campus-area precincts. The early voting location at the Illini Union recorded 190 votes, some of which were faculty, staff or others who live outside the campus area but voted at the Union.

"We can handle many multiples of that sort of traffic at the Illini Union early-voting location," he said. "We're running the Illini Union on the same schedule that we're running the rest of our early-voting locations. We think there's an essential fairness in treating everyone the same."

He noted that most school districts in the county (including Champaign and Urbana public schools) will be on spring break at the same time as the UI.

"We don't set the election calendar. The Legislature picked March 20 for the Election Day," Hulten said. "We've been telling people for months that if they think they're going to be gone, vote by mail. They have 90 days to request a vote-by-mail ballot.

"If having early vote open a week prior to the election is inconvenient for voters because of spring break, we would encourage them to vote by mail."

Hulten also contended that voters in Champaign County "have greater access to early voting than any other jurisdiction in the state of Illinois. We run a better ratio of locations to voters than any other jurisdiction. And we do more at the Illini Union in terms of making early voting available than the law requires us to do.

"And so the notion that we're engaged in voter suppression in a general primary election is laughable."

Early voting will take place at eight remote places in the county — the Union, sites in north, west and southwest Champaign, and in Mahomet, Rantoul, St. Joseph and Tolono — beginning March 13.

But it will begin Feb. 8 at the county clerk's office at the Brookens Center, 1776 E. Washington St., U.


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is tkacich@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).

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