Unusually high humidity may be to blame for problems with paper ballots throughout Illinois during the primary election March 20, state election officials said Tuesday. The state experienced record-setting temperatures and unseasonably high humidity the day of the primary, apparently affecting the “hydroexpansivity” — the tendency of paper to expand when it absorbs moisture — of the paper ballots and rendering them difficult or impossible to feed into the ballot scanners at some precincts. The moisture caused the dimensions of the ballot to expand and be off slightly. “It is possible that the problem ballots were just so close to the limits of the acceptable width tolerance that the additional humidity alone was enough to put them out of tolerance,” according to a report by State Board of Elections officials who investigated the matter. In all, 26 Illinois voting jurisdictions had problems with the ballots. Some had just a few ballots that would not feed into the scanner, while at least one had difficulty with all of its ballots. Election judges chose to either trim the edges of the ballots so they would fit into the scanners or to remake the ballots on proper-width ballot stock.
Many of the problems occurred in Winnebago County in northern Illinois, suburban DuPage County outside Chicago and Macoupin County in central Illinois, according to elections officials. Investigators also looked at other possible explanations for the ballot problems, including how and where the ballots were stored beforehand, as well as the weight, thickness, grain and type of paper used. Humidity levels were a common denominator across the state. A check of climate figures for the day show temperatures about 11 a.m. across the state were in the mid 60s and got warmer as the day went on. Humidity levels about 11 a.m. ranged from the low 60s to upper 70s across the state — 78 percent in suburban Aurora, 73 percent in Springfield and Decatur, 68 percent in Rockford and the metro-east, and 63 percent in suburban Wheaton.
Members of the board of elections, during a meeting Tuesday, declined to spend $5,000 to further investigate what happened in March but did vote in favor of taking steps to try to alleviate the problem, should it happen again. Among their recommendations are that election authorities store ballots in climate-controlled areas, that the ballots are printed with cut marks to make them easier to trim should the need arise, and that each election authority be provided the most up-to-date manufacturer’s manuals for their voting systems.