Home > JOUR503, Journalism > Noah Praetz talks Cook County absentee voting, security

Noah Praetz talks Cook County absentee voting, security

Despite the recent controversy over absentee voting in Ohio, Cook County expects an increase in the voting format this year, according to Noah Praetz, deputy director of Elections for the county.

Noah Praetz

Noah Praetz, deputy director of elections for Cook County, speaks to a graduate journalism class at DePaul University on Monday, Sept. 17. (Photo by Mike Reilley)

Praetz, speaking to a graduate journalism class at DePaul University, said changes to absentee voting requirements should see an increased number of suburban Cook County voters voting by mail.

“We expect a much greater portion of our voting population to use it,” he said. “I think [the number of absentee votes] can double or triple.”

Praetz, who has worked in Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office since 2000, cited changes to requirements for absentee voting as a key factor in that prediction.

In previous years, a signed affidavit was required for absentee voting. However, since last year, the process has become much more simplified, requiring only an application to be filled out. The City of Chicago oversees voting in the city, including absentee ballots.

Voting registration officially closes 28 days before the Nov. 6 election, however the “grace period” extends to the Saturday before (Nov. 3). During the grace period, suburban Cook County residents can go to one of six office locations to register, Praetz said.

Technology changes have helped both the accuracy and efficiency of absentee voting is technology, according to Praetz. A good example of such a piece of technology is a new mail sorting system that helps tally votes quicker. The machine, which cost $216,914, came as a result of federal funds stemming back from the Help America Vote Act of 2002, Praetz said.

“Under the old way, we were doing one ballot every four minutes,” Praetz said. “We’d have to compare signatures, assign a number at the top, and then hand off to be sorted by precinct.

“Now, we can do about 10 ballots per minute. A camera takes a picture and scans the signature and bar code. It’s very quick.”

But with increases in technology can also come increases in cyber threats and malfunctions.

“Security is something we take seriously,” Praetz said. “We don’t anticipate it occurring, but we take the threat of accidental, malicious and ‘prankster virus’ threats seriously.”

According to Praetz, one way to ensure the safety of voting equipment is a process called “forensic auditing.” Overseen by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the process includes ensuring a “significant” number of voting equipment has a “clean bill of health,” Praetz said.

In forensic auditing, the commission takes the code of voting machines and compares it to the code in their own database. If the codes match, the machine is cleared. However, if the codes don’t, they are either repaired or passed over completely, he said.

Sample Ballot Cook County

A sample ballot from the 2008 election in Cook County. (Photo by Jeremy Mikula)

As technology improves, a big goal for Orr’s office is moving for a “less restrictive” process for voter registration, according to Praetz. Because of the kind of databases of public information that exist, double-checking addresses is quicker and easier than before, he said.

“There’s so much information about where we live as individuals,” Praetz said. “We want to make sure our citizens vote. We don’t need artificial hurdles. As basic as they are, they’re not necessary as we go forward.”

Praetz disagrees that less restrictive qualifications for voters would increase voter fraud.

“Voter fraud is serious. No ifs, ands or buts about it,” he said. “But it’s clear that ‘voter fraud’ is used to propagate restrictive registration is way out of line with the truth and scope of the problem.”

You can register to vote in: Chicago | Suburban Cook County

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