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As the Illinois Supreme Court decides whether or not Rahm Emanuel can run for mayor, grace period voting procedures are altered.


As grace period registration begins, ballot issues put immediate voting on hold

by Kristen Barbaresi
Jan 26, 2011


The start of grace period registration and voting usually marks the first day that votes are officially cast in an election, but not this year.

Grace period registration began today, as scheduled, but grace period registrants will not immediately cast their votes.

“Right now we’re providing [grace period] voters with an application for an absentee ballot,” said Jim Allen, communications director for the Chicago Board of Elections.

The actual absentee ballots will not be sent to voters until Rahm Emanuel’s candidacy status is decided.

Grace period registration is a second chance to register for people who had problems making the Jan. 25 deadline or simply procrastinated.

While grace period laws allow for absentee ballots or same-day voting, traditionally, those who register during the grace period cast their vote electronically during the same visit.

“We prefer to have them vote right then and there,” Allen said. “When we do it the other way, we don’t often get a ballot back.”

After the Illinois Supreme Court rules on Emanuel’s status, grace period voting will likely switch to the traditional electronic, same-day voting.

Grace period runs through Feb. 15.

“Grace period allows the procrastinators who have not registered to actually register,” said Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Elections.

Past municipal elections have not seen a high turnout during the grace period.

“The November 2008 presidential election was the highest use of grace period,” Allen said.

“It’s doubtful there will be a [grace period] rush this election, based on the average registration turnout we’ve seen so far.”

The unprecedented and sudden change to the grace period voting protocol comes in the wake of court rulings regarding Emanuel’s status as a candidate.

Monday, the state Appellate Court ruled that Emanuel failed to meet the residency requirement and ordered his name removed from the ballot.

Tuesday morning, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a stay on the Appellate Court ruling, which meant Emanuel’s name was to be back on the ballot while the decision is reviewed.

While the courts went back and forth, the Chicago Board of Elections tried to keep up. Ballot printing began on Monday without Emanuel’s name, and almost 280,000 ballots were produced. The subsequent Supreme Court ruling meant the production of ballots had to be stopped, Emanuel’s name added, and the printing process started over.

The exact amount of money lost by printing the now defunct ballots is unknown. Right now, it seems just a small fraction of the $275,000 printing budget, Allen said.

The electronic machines typically used for grace period and early voting haven’t been setup yet.

With the ballot in flux, programming the computers is on hold, Allen said.

Although the grace period registration and voting procedures had to be altered, early voting, which begins Monday, will proceed as originally planned. Early voting is only for those who registered by the Jan. 25 deadline.

As it stands, early voters will cast their votes electronically with Emanuel as a candidate.

If, after early voting begins, Emanuel’s candidacy is ruled invalid, those who have already cast their vote cannot re-vote.

“There are no do-overs,” Allen said.

This means that by Monday the ballot has to be loaded on the roughly 200 electronic voting stations.

Despite the court rulings and changes to procedures and ballots, voters appear to be keeping up. The board of elections has not received many calls or questions regarding the changes.

“Chicago voters are pretty shrewd,” Allen said. “They follow the game pretty closely.”