Early voting for the primary election is supposed to start Thursday across Illinois, but millions of voters won't have the option because of pending candidate challenges.
The state's two most-populated counties, Cook and DuPage, have delayed early voting until as late as Feb. 21 in order to wait out final decisions on several candidate challenges. But elsewhere, particularly in smaller counties downstate, clerks plan to proceed Thursday, offering caveats to voters who want to cast ballots. The result could be confusion for voters.
One candidate ballot challenge has statewide impact. A judge ruled Democratic attorney general candidate Scott Drury can't be on the ballot over questions about his filing of a candidate economic disclosure statement. However, his name will be allowed to remain while he appeals. If Drury is ultimately ruled off, votes for him won't be counted, though he could still run as a write-in candidate.
Because of that pending decision and others, election officials around Chicago have said they won't be ready by Thursday, in order to have time to test out equipment and prepare ballots in four languages. More than 3.5 million voters in Chicago and surrounding communities in Cook and DuPage counties would be affected.
However, other county clerks say they're ready to proceed Thursday.
"I'll be open for business," said Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza. "I'm moving forward. I don't want to delay my voters an opportunity. If they want to come in and vote, I want to be ready to go."
There are roughly 182,000 registered voters in southwestern Illinois' Madison County, where two candidate challenges are pending. Ming-Mendoza said voters will be notified of the issues.
Election officials in far southern Illinois' Pope County, where there are about 3,000 registered voters, and eastern Illinois' Vermillion County, home to roughly 29,000 registered voters, plan to follow suit. In central Illinois' Sangamon County, where there are about 138,000 registered voters, Clerk Don Gray said notifications will be posted in voting areas and voters pulling Democratic ballots will be told about the Drury race.
The Illinois State Board of Elections did not have the total number of counties that were delaying but executive director Steve Sandvoss sent a note Wednesday seeking notification from those that weren't going to start on time. Though the decision to delay is up to each jurisdiction, he "strongly encouraged" them to start early voting in a "timely manner."
Fallout from a delay in early voting could be tough to gauge.
Campaigns involved in the March 20 primary haven't been pushing the option the same way as years past and turnout in midterm primaries, with contests for statewide offices such as governor and congressional races, is usually low.
In 2014, roughly 18 percent of the state's approximately 7.5 million registered voters cast primary ballots. In the 2016 presidential primary, Illinois had far higher turnout at roughly 46 percent.