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Jim Witcher of Peru votes this morning at Zion United Church of Christ in Peru. Early voting was strong throughout the Illinois Valley, with several election judges reporting lines of voters waiting to get in the door at 6 a.m. The Obama-Romney race was the obvious draw for voters and turnout was projected to be strong, but rains forecast to begin at midday could temper voter participation.
Precinct judges throughout the Illinois Valley reported lines of voters waiting to get in the door when polling places opened at 6 a.m. today. Turnout was described as brisk in the first two hours of voting. While contested races abounded, the obvious draw was the presidential race. Incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney stood neck-in-neck in closing polls, and local voters seemed eager to break the dead heat. In Mendota, motorists were spotted driving around the block searching for parking spaces outside two Mendota polling places. Lines of people waiting to vote in precincts 1 and 4 in the city council chambers prompted election judges to set up more stations as people waited patiently to cast ballots. By 7:40 a.m., 43 people had cast ballots in the combined Mendota polling places — a total that could be attributed not only to the presidential contest but also to the 1-cent sales tax referendum in La Salle County. “We don’t usually have numbers like that until noon,” election judge Gerald Walter said. Utica voters consistently pack the polls and this morning proved no exception. At the Utica Village Hall, election judge Mary Pawlak reported “phenomenal turnout” — even by Utica standards — and said 204 voters reported to precincts 1 and 2. “That’s a lot,” Pawlak marveled. “They showed up at a quarter to 6, and we’ve never had a lull.” Voters at Peru Eagles Lodge (Peru precincts 4 and 7) found they had to walk about a block to vote. Election judges reported early morning turnout of 32 per hour and 50 per hour, respectively. “Steady is not normal and we’ve been steady,” said election judge Rick Brown at precinct 7. “Nobody is waiting in line, but there are always people in the voting booths.” One of those voters was Peru resident Dianne Derango. She said her motivation to vote this year was the presidential race, and she noted none of the other races interested her nearly as much. “I voted for Mr. Obama last year and I am dissatisfied,” she said. “I’m not happy with his moral issues.” Voting was higher than normal at Precinct 9 but lighter in the adjacent Precinct 8 at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Peru. Election judge Bob Lamboley said 30 had voted in Precinct 8 after 90 minutes of polling, while Precinct 9 saw 93 voters. The line in Precinct 9 was about five deep at 7:30 a.m. At Spring Valley City Hall, where four precincts vote, 83 had picked up ballots within the first hour of voting. That’s more than typical. “This is the second presidential election in a row it’s been high,” election judge Kelli Whightsil said. At the Dickinson House in Oglesby, 45 voters had turned out in precinct 10 by about 7:20 a.m., and 31 in precinct 13. That’s about as many voters in the first hour as precinct 13 had seen all day during the spring primary, election judge Ken Ficek said. Indeed, turnout generally was poor during the March 20 primary. La Salle County posted a disappointing turnout of 20.6 percent and the city of La Salle dragged down the total with an abysmal 17.4 percent. Not helping matters was redistricting that left many voters confused as to where to report. A few voters at St. John’s in Peru showed up at the wrong polling place, election officer Alice Joop said. “The precincts have changed,” Joop said. “If people would check before they vote it would be very helpful. Polling places have moved since the primary.” At the VFW in La Salle, however, election judge Raymond Miklavcic reported at 6:30 a.m. today he saw no signs of voter confusion. Voters seemed clear as to where to report and filled the hall steadily. “No matter when you look up, there are people at the polls,” Miklavcic said, reporting a solid 15 voters in the first 35 minutes of voting. It was the same story at other La Salle polling places. At the Ninth Street Parks and Recreation building (La Salle precinct 3), 27 people had cast their ballot in just over an hour early Tuesday morning. “It’s been steady,” said longtime election judge Richard Nekrosius, adding that’s typical for a presidential election in his area. Whether it remains steady depends on Mother Nature. Crisp but seasonal temperatures just above freezing did not keep voters from lining up at the door; but rain forecast to begin later this morning could suppress turnout. The Weather Channel’s website called for light rain (70 percent chance) after 11 a.m. and showers (30 percent chance or better) through 10 p.m. — long after the polls close. Bad weather can suppress voter participation; county clerks nonetheless anticipated turnout of not less than 55 percent and perhaps as high as 79 percent. So far, the latter predictions are bearing out. Voter turnout in Princeton this morning at Bureau County Metro Center was very steady, according to election judges. Gerry Woodlief said there was “quite a line waiting at 6 a.m.” when judges open their doors to voters. “They all seem very anxious this morning,” she said. The metro center covers Princeton precincts 1 and 2. At Marshall County’s Henry 1 and 2 precincts, election judges were working diligently to serve the steady stream of voters walking through the doors. “We have been very, very busy,” Mary Jane Thornton, of the Henry 1 precinct, said. When the polls opened at 6 a.m., people were already lined up. By shortly after 8 a.m., 129 people had cast ballots at Henry 1, while 87 people had voted in Henry 2, the election judges said.
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