CHICAGO
04/05/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Board Wants Mail-In Special Elections After Emanuel Race Cost $33 Per Vote

The Chicago Board of Elections unanimously recommended Wednesday shifting to a mail-in system for single office special elections, saying such a system would lower expenses and probably increase voter turnout.

The board members made the recommendation in the wake of Tuesday's special primary to fill the 5th Congressional District seat recently vacated by Rahm Emanuel, which cost an estimated $1.75 million but saw low voter turnout.

Only 18 percent of the eligible voters in Chicago cast ballots on Tuesday, and the turnout in suburban precincts was even lower -- only 10.8 percent, said board chairman Langdon D. Neal.

The April general election will cost another $1.75 million, Neal said.

"In the City of Chicago alone, this election cost about $33 per ballot," Neal said in a statement. "These costs would have been even higher if this were a special election for alderman in one ward. But more importantly, that $1.75 million translates to money for real jobs in an economy that can't afford to lose any more."

Under the proposal, already used in the states of Washington and Oregon, secured drop-off boxes are set up in each neighborhood if voters do not want to send in ballots by mail. The board would also have the option of keeping early voting centers open.

Such a system is feasible, but implementing it would be up to the Illinois General Assembly, rather than the state board, said Ken Menzel, an elections specialist with the Illinois State Board of Elections.

State Rep. Elaine, Nekritz, D-Des Plaines, chairman of the Illinois House Elections Committee, said she could not comment on the proposal before seeing it, but felt the committee would be willing to consider it.

"Anything that can save money and increase voter turnout is worth looking at," Nekritz said.