2020 Presidential Election sees record breaking voter turnout in Jackson County due to mail in ballots and early voting

By Tamar Mosby, News & Sports Editor

As of Nov. 3 at 11:14 a.m., there were 5,752 early voters and 5,637 mail-in voters in Jackson County. The number of early voters and mail-in voters has increased by about 1,100 ballots and quintupled respectively since the 2016 presidential election.

There were 11,240 in-person voters at the polls on election day in Jackson County.

“That is pretty significant compared historically,” Jackson County clerk and recorder Frank Byrd said. “Back in 2018, the early vote total for the whole election was 3,522 and the vote by mail ballot return was 1,328. Back in 2016, the last presidential election, the number of people that voted early was 4,694 and the vote by mail ballot was 974.”

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State voting numbers have also shown an increase in early and mail-in voting. 

In the 2016 presidential election, the Illinois State Board of Elections recorded 370,000 votes by mail and a million and a half votes cast early for a total of 1.9 million overall. 

This year the number has increased to 3.8 million, as according to a Nov. 3 pre-election ballot count from the Illinois State Board of Elections, 2,350,142 mail-in ballots have been requested statewide with 1,829,097 being returned and 1,911,537 early votes have been recorded.

Nationally, turnout for the 2020 election is set to shatter the 2016 records.

On the national level, as of print deadline, there were 99.7 million early votes cast, representing three-quarters of the number of votes cast in the entire 2016 election, according to the New York Times.

(See more: Early Votes Near 100 Million as campaign races to close).

Byrd said he believes while COVID-19 has played a part in the surge of voting by mail and early voting, the main force driving this is the number of options voters have been given when it comes to casting their ballots.

“I have extended the days for voting early. I have the ballot retrieval box that’s down on the sidewalk in front of the west side of the courthouse. People are utilizing that, almost about 100 a day, ballots are coming into that ballot retrieval box. So I think these options I’ve put in place have given the people the opportunity to vote, and they’re taking advantage of it,” Byrd said.

Despite many individuals utilizing these opportunities, some of the ballots that have been mailed in or dropped off are not able to be counted, as they are not in compliance with certain voting regulations.

“There have been a few people that didn’t put [ballots] into their secrecy sleeves, so we are not going to be able to deal with that. It has to be done appropriately and the directions are on my website,” Byrd said. “On that page, it shows how to prepare your ballot certification and your vote by mail ballot, so that way there is no confusion and people can do that.”

The last day for Jackson County residents to request a vote by mail ballot was Oct. 29.

Byrd said mail-in ballots must be postmarked before or on the day of the election in order to be counted.

Matt Dietrich spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections said because of this, the counts being published and televised on election night will be short by several hundred thousand votes.

“We’re looking at perhaps 300,000-400,000 vote by mail ballots that are still out there in the hands of voters and those still may arrive and be counted between now and November 17th,” Dietrich said. “So those numbers that voters will see tonight when they watch the results coming in on T.V., they could change by 400,000 votes. We are not exactly sure at this point how many ballots are still out there and how many may come in. We know that some of those mail ballots got turned in today by people who decided to vote in person instead.”

Dietrich said the results of the election will not be published on their website until Dec. 4 when statewide results are finalized and he is confident that the Illinois State Board of Elections will make this deadline.

“The deadlines that we deal with and that the local election authorities deal with are all set in statute so there is no changing that we could not change the date of our official certification, the election authorities must have all the vote by mail ballots and [remaining] ballots counted by November 17th and then they are required to transmit their official numbers to us no later than November 24th and we know that will happen. We are confident that will happen,” Dietrich said.

Both Dietrich and employees of the Illinois State Board of Elections are watching pre-election ballot reports and communicating with local election authorities to get a sense of how turnout is going across the state.

“Prior to today [Nov. 3], we’ve already received 3.8 million votes cast, throughout the state between early voting in-person and voting by mail. That number alone constitutes a 46% voter turnout on the election. So our question now is, was there enough traffic in-person on election day to get us up to about the 70-75% turnout that we normally expect in a presidential election. What we are hearing is that we may see a record number of voters casting votes in this election,” Dietrich said.

Editor Tāmar Mosby can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @mosbytamar.

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