QUINCY — Adams County Clerk Chuck Venvertloh says it will likely be Thursday before his office has final vote totals after nearly every voting precinct in the county dealt with a shortage of ballots Tuesday.
Voting was extended until 8:30 p.m. after the clerk's office was caught unprepared for the turnout for Tuesday's primary election. Judges at numerous polling places reported throughout the day that they had to turn away voters because they ran out of ballots.
Venvertloh said his office had enough ballot stock to accommodate 35 to 40 percent voter turnout, but he estimates the turnout actually was much higher.
“We've got to be upward of 50 to 60 percent,” Venvertloh said.
He said no final vote totals would be available Tuesday night.
“Tonight's numbers that we release are going to be as unofficial as you could possibly get,” Venvertloh said. “Thursday, we should have something a little more solid.”
The process is being slowed because auxiliary ballots that come in will need to be translated to official ballot stock that won't be in his office until Thursday at the earliest.
“The other ballots, the ones that are in the auxiliary ballot, we're going to bring those in here probably on Thursday, sit down with the Republican judges and the Democratic judges together,” Venvertloh said. “We will fill out the ballots together, and we will run those through the machine. So hopefully by Thursday, we will have an official a count as we can possibly have.”
The ballot shortage wasn't limited to any particular precincts.
“Earlier today it was probably maybe half,” Venvertloh said. “But as the day has gone on it's be probably going to be nearly every precinct.”
State statute requires that each precinct have 110 percent of the possible ballots needed. However, the statute is rarely enforced, and most counties fail to comply, especially during primaries, because of low turnout and the costs associated with printing ballots that can run through electronic tabulators.
Venvertloh said he decided to only print about 30 percent of the possible ballots in each precinct. He based that on 23 percent voter turnout in 2012, the last presidential primary, and 33 percent in 2008. He projected just a 27 percent turnout.
“It's huge, which is good, but our printers can only print so fast (for new ballots),” he said.
Adams County State's Attorney Jon Barnard, on Venvertloh's behalf, filed a temporary restraining order late Tuesday afternoon to prevent polls from closing at 7 p.m. The order was approved by Judge Chet Vahle.
“The basis for it obviously was they ran out of ballots,” Barnard said. “They're reprinting them, and they can get them out there, but you've already had people who showed up and left because there were no ballots left.”
Barnard said extending hours at the polls would make sure the county did not disenfranchise voters.
Venvertloh, workers in his office and off-duty sheriff's deputies brought in to help with the election had to deliver more ballots to the polling places after they were printed in the courthouse. Some delays at ballotless polling places were reported to be as long as four to five hours. In most cases, the shortage involved Democratic ballots, but many polling places also were turning away Republican voters late Tuesday afternoon.
The presidential primary races were virtually decided by the time Illinoisans voted in 2012, with President Barack Obama facing no challenge in his bid for a second term and Mitt Romney well on his way to the Republican nomination. However, the presidential races were still hanging in the balance as voters in Illinois and four other states went to the polls Tuesday.
In addition, there were U.S. Senate primaries for both parties in Illinois, and the Adams County GOP primary featured a contentious race for state's attorney between Gary Farha and Jennifer Cifaldi. The Tri-Township Fire Protection District and Liberty School District also had referendums on the ballot.
Same-day registration also was allowed Tuesday, creating long lines in the clerk's office in the courthouse. Some voters who had been turned away at their polling places also showed up at the courthouse to try to vote.
High school seniors who are 17 now but will be 18 by the time the November general election is held also were allowed to vote in the primary.
Venvertloh said he had been in contact with the State Board of Elections and was told several counties across the state also were experiencing problems.
In West-Central Illinois, voting problems appeared to be limited to Adams County.
Pike County Clerk Donnie Apps said voting there seemed to be going smoothly Tuesday.
“We had a pretty big rush the last week, and it seems like things are steady today,” he said.
Apps said he thought the office provided plenty of ballots to all its polling places and wouldn't need to print any extra.
“Usually, we have gobs leftover, and then we have our touchscreens out there, too,” Apps said. “So if we ever do run low, we can use our touchscreens.”
Brown County Clerk Judy Ham said election judges reported that the election was running well. Ham said there have been no requests for additional ballots.
“We have plenty of ballots,” she said. “We haven't run out of any.”
Venvertloh, who was first elected in 2014, credited the Adams County state's attorney and presidential primary races as the biggest draws for voters.
“You've got some really polarizing figures there that people want to either vote for or against,” he said. “You've just got some good characters there.”
Despite being “overwhelmed” by the high turnout, Venvertloh said it was impressive.
“It's fantastic to have that good of a turnout,” he said. “It's great for voter turnout. I just wish I was a little better prepared for it.
“Being fairly new, this is somewhat of a nightmare. But we learn, we fight through it, and we get better for next time.”
Staff writers Don O'Brien, Doug Wilson, Matt Hopf, Edward Husar and David Adam contributed to this report.
Just spoke with an Adams County Sheriff's deputy. Deputy was running more ballots to Siloam Springs and Liberty.— Don O'Brien (@DOBrienWHIG) March 15, 2016
Spoke with official at Illinois State Board of Elections. Law calls for precincts to have 10 percent more ballots than registered voters.— Matt Hopf (@MHopfWHIG) March 15, 2016
However, most counties don't follow the rule adopted in the 1980s, because they can now print off more ballots as needed.— Matt Hopf (@MHopfWHIG) March 15, 2016
Have talked to several HS seniors who voted today for 1st time after learning they could vote because they turn 18 before general election.— Don O'Brien (@DOBrienWHIG) March 15, 2016
Many flustered folks walking in and out of Adams County Courthouse. Some here because their precinct ran out of ballots.— Don O'Brien (@DOBrienWHIG) March 15, 2016