URBANA — In 2018, when Champaign County Clerk Aaron Ammons took office, there were only 10 early voting locations in the county. This year, there will be 30.
“I’m trying to do everything I can to increase the participation from voters in a midterm election.” That’s why we’ve been pushing vote by mail so much, but also expanding early voting,” Ammons told me.
Illinois has one of the longest early voting periods in the country, and it began on May 19. While it’s been slow so far in Champaign County, the process has been described as “easy” by two election judges, including Mark Friedman, a Champaign native. Friedman said that reforms were long overdue.
Previously, Aaron Ammons worked on voting rights issues with his wife, State Rep. Carol Ammons, and others involved in CU Citizens for Peace & Justice. His studies of Civil Rights leaders, such as John Lewis, James Orange, James Bevel, and more recently, trailblazing journalist Ari Berman (author of “Give Us The Ballot”) inspired efforts to expand in-person early voting and mail-in voting.
“The unfortunate reality is that, even today, too many citizens have reason to fear that their right to vote, their access to the ballot – and their ability to have their votes counted – is under threat,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. Attorney General, is quoted as saying in Ari Berman’s book “Give Us the Ballot.” Though, in Illinois, same-day registration, for example, works to address that issue.
The reforms made by Ammons’ administration are about “convenience, accessibility, flexibility.” He explained how that “help[s] voters participate at a higher level. Only 20% of our voting population has demonstrated that they want to stay with a precinct-based location. It’s too rigid.”
And while progressive efforts to expand voting access have been contentious in some states, Ammons, who previously worked as an Urbana Alderman, thinks it’s beneficial for all – a tenet of “participatory democracy.”
“I think the pushback from Republicans is that they see that vote by mail, early voting, those things are going to make voting more accessible, and it’s going to increase the participation, and they think they’re going to suffer,” Ammons said.
While many Republicans nationwide have claimed without evidence that expanded early and mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud, there has been less pushback in Champaign County.
Some Republicans on the Champaign County Board pushed for drop-off boxes to be used in more parts of the county, including rural areas, which tend to vote Republican.
In response, Ammons has placed dropoff boxes in areas like southwest Champaign and Savoy, as well as smaller towns like Mahomet and St. Joseph.
To request a mail-in ballot, or to find a full early voting schedule with a list of polling locations, go to champaigncountyclerkil.gov.