Updated: December 2, 2012 2:11PM
The prevailing theory in the past couple of decades held that Americans had become too jaded, bored and indifferent to bother voting. How much did a person’s vote really matter anyway?
But the growing popularity of early voting in this election has proved that what American voters mostly wanted, what they always want, was more choices. We are a nation that craves options, and we wanted an easy one to Election Day, when it sometimes is difficult to find time to make it to the poll. We wanted more time to vote, more places to vote.
The trend to provide early voting options began tentatively in 1992 and has bloomed into a national phenomenon with 33 states and the District of Columbia on board. Inevitably, all states will offer it. Both parties now must craft national campaigns and strategies aimed directly at this segment of the electorate.
Illinois implemented early voting prior to the 2006 primary election and it’s catching on quickly. As of Wednesday evening, about 151,000 suburban Cook County residents had voted early since it began Oct. 22, which means the record set in 2008 is likely to be surpassed. Turnout was up 84 percent compared with the first week of early voting in 2008.
Orland Township Hall was the leading polling place in Cook County as of Wednesday, with 9,121 voters. In Will County, 21,363 had voted early through Tuesday.
Comparing the turnout to 2008 is tricky because early voting began a week later this year and extends two days longer, to the Friday and Saturday before the election. The net effect is four fewer days, but the Legislature countered that by allowing unfettered early voting by mail.
Illinois, being fairly new to the game, has lagged its neighbors in early voting — every contiguous state has a higher percentage. Though Illinois has not been above 10 percent, we’re catching on, as is the nation.
In the 2008 presidential election about 39.7 million, or 30 percent of all votes, were cast before Election Day, up from 20 percent in 2004 and 7 percent in 1992.
It seems that voting, our ultimate choice as a free people, does not bore us after all.