Tazewell County typically has a 65 to 68 percent voter turnout in presidential elections, but the tightly contested race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and President-elect Donald Trump brought out voters in record numbers.
Tazewell County Clerk Christie Webb said the election brought out 65,262 of the county’s 90,769 registered voters — higher numbers than the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
With the exception of some leftover mail-in ballots that can be counted over the next two weeks as they arrive at Webb’s office, 71.8 percent of registered Tazewell County voters voted either though grace period voting, early voting, absentee voting or traditional day of voting at precincts. Webb had predicted the outcome would be around 70 percent prior to Election Day.
Webb said approximately 11,000 early voting, grace period and mail-in ballots were cast, or 10 percent of the total.
“That’s higher than any other time,” said Webb. “Early voting started about six years ago.
“For a few years, I just did early voting here, but the last few years I’ve done it off site — the last three or four years. If it progresses the way it has, we’ll see what happens (about expanding it). I wanted to make sure it was going to catch on here before we went to the expense of doing this off site. If I had my way, we’d go to all mail-in ballots because I think we would get a better turnout and it would alleviate having to get polling locations and scrambling to find judges. That would take a lot of legislative changes. It’s the same concept as a mail-in vote now — you’ll have the application, you’ll have the signature and you match it with the signature in the system.”
Judges are hard to come by because of the long day involved, said Webb. State statute requires that there are five judges per precinct. Tazewell County has 135 precincts, so it needs 675 judges. The county had approximately 550 judges on Tuesday. Judges are paid $135 for the day if they have training and $110 if they do not.
The county has combined polling places so that fewer judges are needed.
Judges, said Webb, “are a dying breed.”
If there are not the required number of judges, the judges have to run with what they have, but there have to be judges from both parties. She said all counties in Illinois have trouble finding enough election judges.
Webb said there has been discussion about raising the pay for judges, but doesn’t know if there is an answer to the problem.
“At one point we had 100 locations, but we’re down to 72 locations now,” said Webb. “We still have to have the same number of judges, but if we do run short, they can help one another. I don’t have to have runners go to so many locations to make sure things are set up. It makes it easier.”
Webb said she budgeted $300,000 for the primary and presidential. When all is said and done, it will cost the taxpayers approximately $500,000 for everything.
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin