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NORMAL - If you want to vote in upcoming elections, you won't be tied to just one day anymore.

Early voting for the March primary will run 17 days, the first time Illinois has joined several other states in offering early voting. The option is in addition to absentee voting, which requires voters to meet certain qualifications.

"The intent is to get as many to the polls to vote as possible," said McLean County Clerk Peggy Ann Milton. "Hopefully there will be no excuse that they didn't have the opportunity to do it."

Early voters within McLean County will be able to choose from three sites: Milton's office, Normal City Hall and Illinois State University.

Residents within Bloomington city limits, whose elections are overseen by the Bloomington Election Commission, can vote at that office.

Char Stanford, executive director of the commission, said satellite sites could be added if enough voters take advantage of the early voting option.

"We're taking baby steps to make certain we can do it right," said Milton. "We want to make sure we have it down pat before we expand it. It's a whole new concept."

It also goes beyond just providing voting equipment. Milton has to link the Normal city clerk's office with the voter database so City Clerk Wendy Briggs can check to ensure the person voting is registered and isn't casting more than one ballot.

Milton is working with retired ISU instructor Betty Kinser and the League of Women Voters to provide volunteers to staff the ISU site. They will have to call or e-mail Milton's office each time a voter wants to cast a ballot to ensure the voter is registered and only voting once.

Stanford is hiring election judges - at a cost of about $5,000 - to oversee the early voting option in a conference room in her office.

"It will be set up as a polling place," Stanford said.

Votes cast during early voting will not be counted until all other ballots are counted at the end of the designated Election Day, which is March 21.

Stanford and Milton have high hopes the extra voting days will increase the number of people voting, but statistics from other states show it isn't too likely.

"Nationwide, there's been minimal increase in voter turnout," Milton said.

Statistics show 20 percent and 50 percent of those voting early would have voted anyway.

"We had 460 vote absentee in the last governor's race," Stanford said. "If we have more (using the early voting option), that will be wonderful."

Unlike absentee voting, those choosing the early voting option do not have to have a reason to vote early.

Absentee voting has to be requested and is available only to those meeting requirements, such as being out of town on Election Day, serving in the military, or observing a religious holiday which prohibits them from going to the polls that day.

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