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Local

Officials may close NIU voter registration center

Douglas Johnson, DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder, talks about weighing the benefits of a voter registration center at Northern Illinois University on election days when students can register and vote early Tuesday at an election information meeting.
Douglas Johnson, DeKalb County Clerk and Recorder, talks about weighing the benefits of a voter registration center at Northern Illinois University on election days when students can register and vote early Tuesday at an election information meeting.

SYCAMORE – County officials are rethinking the cost-effectiveness of an election day voter registration center at Northern Illinois University for the 2020 election year.

Douglas Johnson, DeKalb County clerk and recorder, said Tuesday during an election information meeting that he may not implement a voter registration center in the NIU Holmes Student Center for the upcoming election year. A voter registration center was set up at the Holmes Student Center during the primary elections in March 2016 and has remained since for students who were registered to vote in Illinois, but had not yet updated their registration to vote in DeKalb County.

Johnson said he does not believe a voter registration center is a cost-effective avenue for students to vote when they are able to register online before election day or at their individual polling places on election day. The polling place for most students who live on or near campus is Barsema Alumni Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road.

“What I look at is if 700 people registered to vote and what is the cost to the taxpayers and is it paying off when they can still go to their polling places and still register early,” Johnson said.

Many people who attended the meeting, some themselves elected officials, were concerned that closing the voter registration center would congest polling places on a day when wait times are already long.

Sycamore resident Douglas Moore, who worked as an poll watcher in the Student Holmes Center during the November 2018 election, said the average wait time for registration and voting is one hour and worries about how this time will increase without the registration center.

“If you’re taking all those people and move them into Barsema, you’re going to be going from like an hour to four hours,” Moore said.

The wait could also lead to issues such as students queuing up for the wrong polling place or with insufficient identification and not knowing until it is too late, said Carolyn Morris, DeKalb City Council 1st Ward alderman.

“The line was so long that there was no way a student could get anywhere near an election judge to even ask the question,” Morris said.

Ellingsworth Webb, a DeKalb County election judge and deputy registrar, said he has a simple answer to long lines on election day: register and vote early.

“There are a million ways you can vote prior to the day of an election,” Webb said. “That day, we will do cartwheels to try to help them find out whatever information they need possible so they can get registered.”

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