BLOOMINGTON — If early turnout for the March 20 primary is any indication, local Democrats may be in for a big year.
Democrats represented 56 percent of early voters and vote-by-mail returns for the Bloomington Election Commission as of 8 a.m. Monday, versus just 19 percent of early voters for the March 18, 2014, primary election.
For the McLean County clerk's office — which handles Normal and county voters outside the city of Bloomington — Democrats made up 54 percent of early voters and vote-by-mail returns as of Monday. No party data was available Monday for early voters in the 2014 primary through the clerk's office.
"The almost law-like behavior of midterm elections is against the president's party. It will be an important referendum on (Republican) President (Donald) Trump," said John Jackson, a visiting professor of political science at Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Institute of Public Policy. "All the public polls show the Democrats enjoying the benefit of the so-called 'enthusiasm gap.'"
McLean County has already seen some evidence of that enthusiasm: Democrats are running for county clerk and five Republican or open county board seats, versus no countywide candidates and only two board challenges in 2016. Republicans hold 15 of 20 board seats and all countywide offices.
“I think it could be some reaction against (Republican) Gov. (Bruce) Rauner," added Jackson, "just as 2014 was some reaction against (Democratic then-Gov.) Pat Quinn.”
McLean County this year became the only Illinois county where voters can pull a Libertarian ballot in the primary, but few have so far — only 14 among early voters and vote-by-mail requests across both offices.
Jackson said the party breakdown is likely to change as more votes come in because the party with momentum tends to vote first. Also, some vote-by-mail requests are likely to not be returned.
In-person early voting across both offices totaled 960 as of Monday, versus 1808 total in 2014's primary. Early voting starts earlier now than it did then.
McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael said she hopes to hit 35 percent voter turnout for the primary, versus 30 percent in 2014.
"Today is (the) first day we are open for (early voting) until 7 p.m. ... Will be interesting to see if more voters come in after work starting today," said Michael. "Monday might see activity at (Illinois State University) as they come back from (spring) break."
Early voting continues 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday through March 20 at the county clerk's office, 115 E. Washington St. Room 102; the BEC, 115 E. Washington St. Room 403; and Illinois State University's Bone Student Center, 100 N. University St., Normal.