With the upcoming midterm elections taking place on March 20th, providing access to voting options is pretty crucial. This date falls right in the middle of Spring Break — where many students travel back home, or elsehwere — so if they are registered to vote in Champaign County, they won't have the opportunity to do so during the break. Thus, registered voters will have to vote early. So this is where this discussion begins.
The Common Cause Illinois group has responded to Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten's (R) choice to not add more early polling locations on campus at the University of Illinois. Ultimately, adding more early polling locations on campus would provide more access for students to vote early if they can't vote on March 20th.
The group has issued this press release, which Hulten has responded to. You can see the release and tweet below.
From the press release:
STATEMENT OF COMMON CAUSE ILLINOIS - UIUC IN RESPONSE TO VOTING ACCESSIBILITY ON CAMPUS
CHAMPAIGN, IL – Common Cause UIUC firmly stands for equal access to the ballot box. We are concerned that the current miscommunications between the Champaign County Clerk’s Office and the Illini Student Government could prevent some students from voting in the upcoming primary election. We need to ensure that every student can vote early, especially since our campus will be on spring break for Election Day.
As a transient population, students are disproportionately affected by election laws. As Election Day for the Illinois primary falls on the University’s spring break, all parties can agree that we must take every effort to provide early vote opportunities and spread awareness across campus. Without the necessary resources and effort by all parties, it will be substantially more difficult for students to vote prior to their departure from campus. Data from past elections show that there was a dramatic increase in student voter turnout across campus during the 2016 election. In the 2016 primary, over 6,000 students turned out to vote, followed by the presidential election, where hundreds of students waited in long lines at the polls on Election Day.
Additionally, new policies passed by the Illinois General Assembly have streamlined the voter registration process, lowering barriers to the ballot box that students previously faced. Several policies that Common Cause Illinois has had an essential role in passing and implementing, such as Same Day Voter Registration and Automatic Voter Registration, will continue to decrease students’ barriers to the ballot box. We expect these changes will increase the number of students voting this year, requiring more polling places. It is essential for our University and elected officials to find a compromise and help students get to the polls.
Common Cause Illinois is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest, and empowering people to make their voices heard in the political process.
The link that Hulten is sending people to via that tweet is the page about Early Voting on the Champaign County Clerk's website, which states:
Any voter validly registered in Champaign County may vote at ANY early voting location during the early voting period, however, any vote cast is final, and may not be revoked, and the voter is not eligible to cast a vote on election day.
The logic here seems solid in some ways — the early polling locations are available to everyone that is registered to vote — so if you're wanting to vote early, make sure you are able to get to one of these places in Champaign County. Hulten states that these locations are the same as the last election period, so in his mind, an argument about voter supression isn't valid because there are plenty of locations around Champaign County that are available to anyone registered to vote.
While this isn't voter supression on it's face, not adding locations near where a ton of registered student voters seems like it isn't helping at all, right? If people are concerned about having access to voting early on campus, wouldn't you want to listen to the constitutents and try to make a compromise? Seems logical to me.
Certainly, adding more polling locations doesn't necessarily mean more people will turn out to vote, but if your role is to provide as much access for people to vote as possible, one would think adding even a few campus early voting locations would make sense.
I reached out to Hulten to comment here, asking: What is your rationale for not adding more early polling locations on campus given the feedback you've gotten from constituents?
The 2014 Primary is the most recent comparable election we have to the upcoming March 20, 2018 Primary. Both 2014 and 2018 Primaries feature contests similar high-profile offices (Governor and Congress 13 for both parties, for example).
We have ten precincts that we generally consider to be the core campus area (City of Champaign 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8, and Cunningham 2, 3, 4 and 5). Those ten precincts cast 173 ballots combined in for the 2014 General Primary election, across all voting types (early, vote by mail, and election day).
For the 2014 General Primary Election, our Illini Union Early Voting Location was open similar days and hours to what we're planning this year (2014: Tuesday through Saturday; 2018: Tuesday through Monday). In 2014, that location serviced 190 total voters during the early voting period. (Many of those 190 voters were faculty or staff who do not live in the ten-precinct core campus area.)
Spring Break 2014 was the week after the 2014 General Primary Election, but turnout was relatively consistent for the ten campus precincts throughout early voting into Election Day.
That said, we are prepared at the Illini Union to handle significantly greater turnout for the 2018 Primary than what occurred in 2014. The Illini Union early voting location is highly trafficked and visible, and designated by state statute as our campus early voting location because of its unique accessibility.
I would have been happy to discuss our preparations and the data on which we base such decisions prior to the Senate vote, and am happy to discuss them or any other issues now. Our track record indicates we have long supported efforts to make voting efficient and convenient for campus-area voters, and Champaign County voters (including campus voters) have greater access to early voting and more choices for early voting than in any other jurisdiction in Illinois.
As it stands currently, there's only one early voting location on campus at the Illini Union. These are the dates and times that early voting is available at this location, per the County Clerk's website:
UI Campus: Illini Union - Room 213
1401 West Green Street, Urbana - Map external link
Tuesday, March 13 through Friday, March 16: 10:00am - 6:00pm
Saturday, March 17: 10:00am - 1:00pm
Sunday, March 18: 1:00pm - 4:00pm
Monday, March 19: 10:00am - 6:00pm
So, if you can't make it to vote at this place at these dates and times, you're out of luck if you're trying to vote on campus? That seems off to me. Adding a few locations would be a simple solution to provide more access to early voting — especially since this particular date falls on a date where many students won't be able to vote. This is a massive portion of Champaign County's population that's being restricted to one early voting location — with windows of time that add up to 22 hours total. That doesn't look like a ton of time to seize the opportunity to vote early.
There's a press conference today that discusses this issue:
Today, Friday February 2nd at 12:00 PM in Room 213 of the Illini Union, members of the student leadership, the Illini Democrats, the Illini Republicans, community activists, elected officials, and labor leaders will be holding a press conference in reaction to the county clerk's refusal to add additional polling places on campus for the early voting period leading up to spring break.
UPDATE: 11:27 a.m.
I'm adding a few notes here from Hulten after our conversation via email. In response to my question above: "So, if you can't make it to vote at this place at these dates and times, you're out of luck if you're trying to vote on campus?" — Hulten mentions voting by mail:
Anyone can vote by mail. We've been taking requests for VBM since December, and have pushed it as an option for any voter affected by Spring Break. (Be aware Spring Break affects most of our County's school districts.) Ballot requests can be made online at www.champaigncountyclerk.com/vbm
As far as voting location is concerned, I asked: "This is a massive portion of Champaign County's population that's being restricted to one early voting location — with windows of time that add up to 22 hours total." above as well. Hulten said:
Anyone can vote at any location during early voting, so nobody is being restricted to just one location.