The wait to cast a ballot Thursday at the Lake County Courthouse in Waukegan, Ill., north of Chicago, was as long as two and half hours as the first day of early voting kicked off in the state. The first voter showed up at 8 a.m. — an hour before the doors opened — and by midafternoon, at least 300 people had filed through, according to Lake County Clerk Robin O’Connor. The turnout was so unexpected that O’Connor said she plans to add a fourth voting machine Friday to accommodate the demand.
People stood six feet apart inside the modern annex, checking their phones or waiting quietly. “They’re courteous, they’re being polite, they’re following the rules, it’s beautiful. It’s truly beautiful,” O’Connor said.
Socorro Herrera, 36, came out on the first day because, she said, “I wanted to make sure I set an example for people.”
“I checked in on Facebook. I am wearing my sticker. I told my 18-year-old to vote,” she said. “We are all busy, but you can vote too. I want my young kids to know this is important — we all lead busy lives. It’s a privilege, it really is.”
Michael Barr, 54, said he waited in line for two hours and 45 minutes to vote, even though he was only able to pay for two hours of parking at a city meter. “I don’t trust mail-in voting,” Barr said. “We already don’t get regular mail, like bills, on time. There’s no way to trust the mail system to vote.”
Toby Wong, 58, said she voted early because as an immigrant from Canada, “I take my voting rights seriously.”
“I wasn’t going to let fear about the coronavirus stop me,” Wong added. “I am going to make sure my vote counts.”
The county has also seen a huge demand for vote-by-mail ballots: more than 126,000 have been sent out so far to voters, quadruple the number of people who voted by mail in the 2016 general election. O’Connor said she expects to receive “well over 100,000 back” through the mail or via dropboxes located both inside and outside the courthouse.
“Usually by the first day, we never have this kind of volume. We didn’t expect so many people,” said Chief Deputy County Clerk Todd Govain. “This year is very different.”
Statewide, more than 1.8 million Illinois voters had requested mail ballots by Wednesday, according to the state board of elections. In the 2016 election, 370,000 votes were cast by mail in Illinois — a record at the time, and one that is expected to be easily broken this year.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated Toby Wong’s age.