So, you're not registered to vote, and Tuesday is the Illinois primary. You know a bit about the presidential candidates, but most of that comes from your political friend on Facebook. Don't worry, registering and voting is very easy.
Head over to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners' website to see your sample ballot; what you'll be voting on depends on your address. Of course there's the presidential election, but you'll also see a number of other elections at the state and local levels. For example, Illinois is one of 34 states with a U.S. Senate race this year, and each party has candidates squaring off to win Tuesday's contest, in order to move on to the general election in November.
Illinois does not require voters to be registered with one party or the other to vote in the primary, although you will be required to choose a party affiliation at the polling place. Some wards will also offer nonpartisan ballots that feature no candidates, only a referendum.
Through Election Day, you can register and vote at the same time.
If you want to do it before Election Day, you can head to one of 51 early voting sites in the city through Monday, during what's known as "Grace Period Registration and Voting." Locations, times and more are here.
Pro tip: If you've already registered but want to vote early, you can also cast your ballot through Monday. Check the Board of Election Commissioners' website for locations and times.
You can also register to vote on Election Day, although there are a few details to keep in mind:
- In Chicago, every polling place can register voters on primary day, but you must go to the designated polling place for your address, which can be found on the Board of Election Commissioners' site.
- You'll need two forms of ID. A driver's license and a Social Security card will do, but you can also use a student ID, a credit card, a lease or a LINK card, among other accepted items.
- If you're unable to present suitable ID on Election Day, you can still cast a provisional ballot and provide the proper papers within seven days.
Now for the hard part: Who to vote for. For federal and state elections, there's plenty of information about the opinions and voting records of most candidates. Check out nonpartisan sites like OnTheIssues and Project Vote Smart. For many state and local elections, the Chicago Tribune has surveyed candidates on a number of issues. Check their answers out here. For judicial elections, the Illinois Bar Association and the Chicago Bar Association have evaluations of the candidates on their websites.
Pro tip: Print out your sample ballot, and mark your choices on it as you do your research. You can bring this into the voting booth with you.
Of course, with a limited amount of time, you may not be able to research every election on your ballot, and you don't have to vote for a candidate on each section to have your ballot counted.
Polling places, open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, will likely be busiest after 5 p.m., James P. Allen, a spokesman for the city's Board of Election Commissioners, wrote in an email to RedEye. You're more likely to have a wait-free voting experience between 10 a.m. and noon.
The whole process is really quite simple, and it's certainly worth the time. Happy voting!
Tyler Davis is a RedEye contributor.