With the early stages of the 2012 presidential election already unfolding in the nation's primary states, Illinois Republicans are hoping to make an impact of their own.
The Illinois GOP launched its first ever online straw poll Oct. 29 to give voters an opportunity to let their voices be heard prior to the presidential primary in March. Through 7 p.m. Saturday, Illinois residents can cast their vote on the straw poll website — after making a $5 contribution.
"This poll is really an opportunity for Illinois voters to have a voice in this presidential election, which is great because there's a lot of interest and excitement right now both nationally and locally," said Sig Vaznelis, chairman of the Cook County Republican Party.
For those who are uncomfortable voting online, in-person voting will be held Saturday at locations throughout the state.
In Cook County, votes can be cast at the , 16300 Alba St., from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Voting will also take place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Palatine Township GOP Headquarters, 839 N. Quentin Road in Palatine, and from from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Wheeling Township GOP Headquarters, 909 E. Rand Road in Arlington Heights.
The event in Lemont is expected to draw a number of high-ranking Illinois Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, Congresswoman Judy Biggert, State Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, Asst. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, Cook County Commissioner Liz Gorman and Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady. Lemont Mayor Brian Reaves and Township Supervisor Steve Rosendahl are also expected to attend, Vaznelis said.
"It's extremely exciting that Lemont has the opportunity to host something like this. It's not often that we have this many elected officials in Lemont at one time," said Vaznelis, the Lemont Republican committeeman in September.
According to the Illinois Straw Poll website, voters must make a monetary contribution "to help the defray the costs of running the straw poll." Because Illinois does not have party registration, the Illinois Republican Party believes that requiring a contribution "will help limit the straw poll to committed Republicans who are legally qualified to vote."
Vaznelis said the money raised through the straw poll will go to the Illinois GOP, which will distribute the money to county Republican groups across the state.
"The money will be used to get the vote out next year," Vaznelis said. "There's a perception that this state is totally blue, but we feel that Illinois is in play."
The ballot comprises all of the announced pre-presidential candidates for the Republican nomination who have registered with the Federal Election Commission, met all constitutional requirements and garnered an average of at least 1 percent in five national polls.
The eligible candidates, as of Oct. 29, are Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman Jr., Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
For more information on the straw poll, visit www.illinoisstrawpoll.com.