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Local Column

Olson: The 'risk' of early voting

Illinois voters often are urged to vote early.

It makes it more convenient, helps relieve some of the pressure on local election officials, and theoretically improves turnout.

I voted early once, for the novelty value, but I haven’t since. For one, I enjoy being part of the process the day it unfolds. Another important reason is that once I vote, there’s no taking that ballot back.

In Montana, a lot of voters are probably wishing they could have their ballots back. In that state, the Republican candidate for the state’s only seat in the U.S. House of Representatives was arrested May 24 – the day before the election – on an assault charge after witnesses say he “body-slammed” a reporter who was asking him questions.

Disturbing audio captured by the reporter, and statements from others who were in the room, definitely paint the candidate, Greg Gianforte, as the aggressor. Witnesses from a news crew that was there say he put his hands around the reporter’s throat, threw him to the ground and then began punching while he was down.

The three major Montana newspapers that had endorsed Gianforte all pulled their endorsements. But in Montana – as in Illinois – lots of people vote early, but there’s no way to change your vote once it’s cast.

Gianforte, a successful businessman who made a failed bid for governor, was elected to that state’s only congressional seat May 25. More than 250,000 people already had voted by the time he attacked the reporter – about 37 percent of the state’s electorate.

Local and state election officials in Illinois say there’s not really any way to change your vote once it’s cast. DeKalb County Clerk Doug Johnson said there was no way he could think of to keep the ballots secret and still make them identifiable.

“How would we know which ballot out of all them is yours?” Johnson asked. “Unless your name was on the ballot, but that eliminates the security of voters knowing that their boss or union or whatever can’t know how their voting.

“That’s necessary in a democracy, to make that secure so other people can’t know how you voted.”

Even if it was possible to identify the ballots and recall them, it would seem impossible to do it en masse. An event that could potentially cause thousands of people to change their minds would probably throw the ballot tabulation into total chaos.

Once you vote, you’re locked in, no matter what the person you support might do afterward.

“That’s the risk you take,” Johnson said.

Personally, that’s more risk than I want to assume.

Better not to vote at all than to support someone who later proves unworthy of my vote.

• Eric Olson is editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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