This is not the first time we've held a primary on St. Patrick's Day, we've learned how to adapt. A good precinct captain knows how to get voters from the tavern over to the polling place, a great precinct captain knows how to get them back.
But the bars will be empty today as will most public places, this is the first time in a while we've held a primary during the middle of a global pandemic, and that disruption leads to far greater uncertainty. Ohio has cancelled today's primary but here in Illinois it will proceed as planned, although participation is certain to be smaller.
Our leaders are advising the public that it's too dangerous to eat a hot dog in the presence of strangers but they should also go vote, which is a bit of a mixed message (to put it diplomatically). Turnout will be lower for two reasons, 1) some people will be rightfully scared, particularly among older voters and other vulnerable communities, and will stay away, and 2) some voters will be disenfranchised when their polling place doesn't open due to the lack election workers, election equipment or both, and we've seen reports of these issues far greater than normal so far this morning.
It's almost impossible to predict what today's turnout will be. Below is a table showing the combined Democratic and Republican primary turnout going back two decades.
Combined non-pandemic turnout would have certainly been higher than 1.5 million voters. In fact, given turnout increases in other states in affluent suburban areas it's possible that the Democratic primary alone would have been higher than 2 million voters, driven by increases in participation in suburban and collar counties.
Here are the known early vote and vote by mail totals, as of this morning. Each election authority has to report these totals to the State Board but they have up to two days to do so, for some counties/EAs these totals may be current, for others they may be a day or two behind. (note: these totals don't distinguish between Democratic primary ballots and Republican primary ballots, these are just the combined totals)
|Total VBM requested:||296,072|
|Total VBM outstanding:||165,864|
|Total VBM returned:||130,208|
|Total Early Vote:||584,708|
|Total Grace Period:||14,949|
|Total Already Voted:||729,865|
At most half, and probably more like a third, of the people who would have voted in a non-pandemic election have already voted. That means a lot of people in the likely voter universe remain outstanding, some of whom won't vote for one of the two reasons above.
Also, as many as 165,000 vote by mail ballots could still be returned if they are postmarked by today. (note: this twitter thread shows how those numbers have grown over time)
Be patient. Only the results of large margin victories will be known tonight, if at all. More data may come in the next day or two, some data won't be in until two weeks later. Far less will be known about election results tonight than in any Illinois election in the modern era.
1) Don't automatically assume the first reported election results tonight include early vote. Each of the state's 108 election authorities (102 county clerks, plus 6 municipal election authorities: Chicago, Bloomington, Rockford, Galesburg, Danville and East St. Louis) have their own methods and procedures and it varies by election authority. None of them are legally allowed to count early vote and already received vote by mail ballots until after the polls close at 7pm. They can organize them, they just can't count them.
Today all staffs are strained. Many election day workers didn't show up and even regular staff may be unavailable due to self quarantine or other precautions. Some election authorities will count EV/VBM ballot first tonight, others will count them last once all of their other precincts are in and others won't count them until tomorrow or Thursday. Some of that happens in Illinois even during normal elections, today is not normal.
2) As many as 165,000 vote by mail ballots could still be returned if they are postmarked by today. Those valid ballots will arrive in the mail over the next few days and legally they can be counted if they are received any time in the next two weeks with a valid postmark. It should be noted that some of those ballots will be for the Democratic primary and some for the Republican primary, please don't automatically assume all will be returned and/or all will be for just one party's primary.
3) You will be able to see the totals by county/election authority of the number of ballots that remain uncounted or outstanding. These will be available on the State Board's website. Go to their homepage https://www.elections.il.gov/ --> (hover) Press Room --> Uncounted Ballots (righthand column under "Misc" heading).
4) In the days following today some election authorities will update their totals each day with newly received or counted data. Other election authorities won't make any updates after election night until the two weeks have passed. It will vary by election authority but in some parts of the state it may take the full two weeks before the results of close elections are known.
Please be patient and lower your expectations. Conducting an election is challenging in the best of circumstances and these are extraordinary times. It will also be safe to assume that the remaining unknowns are larger than you probably expect.