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Half of Chicago’s voters have new polling places

About half of Chicago’s voters are heading to new precincts to vote in the midterm elections, and polls opened before sunrise on a brisk Tuesday.

Voters across Illinois will elect their governor, junior U.S. senator and all 17 Illinois representatives in the U.S. Congress, as well as decide other key races and issues found in Tribune Voter Guide.

The gubernatorial race seems to be at the forefront of many voters’ minds. One woman who voted in Chicago Ridge, who did not want to be identified, said she was doing her part to keep Gov. J. B. Pritzker and preservation of the blue color of the state. This time, her reason for voting was to overturn Roe v. Wade.

William Harris, 60, came to vote before 7 a.m. at New Bethlehem Church #4 MB on the south side. He said the city’s rising crime rate is the issue that drove him to the polls. Another couple said their motivation was suffrage. Angela Lovett wanted to vote in person at the precinct, but was told she had to have a mail-in ballot to do so. Lovett said she had to rush to work before she could drop off a ballot in the mail today.

“The economy, the inflation, all the upheavals and disappointments lately, that’s what got me to the polls,” said Joyce Little, 75, who added that she’s been following the gubernatorial race closely. “We have the right to vote, why not take it? Our ancestors died for the right. I always vote.”

Election officials are aiming for a smoother day after a rocky June 28 primary. A shortage of election judges caused 56 precincts in Chicago and six precincts in suburban Cook County to open late that day.

Statewide, only 21.7% of voters voted on June 28, down from 26.5% in the 2018 midterm elections. State Election Commission spokesman Matt Dietrich estimates voter turnout for Tuesday’s election will be about 50%, based on historical data.

Chicago Board of Election Commissioners Chairwoman Maricel Hernandez said Monday that she hopes Chicago will exceed turnout in 2018.

Still, Chicago faces the possibility of widespread confusion after nearly half of the city’s voters were assigned new polling places three months before the election.

In accordance with the city’s new district map and with the goal of saving money on election expenses, the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners reduced almost 40% of polling stations from the primary. That increased the number of voters per precinct and reduced the number of precincts that can have multiple precincts from 1,043 in the primary to 944 on Tuesday.

Dramatic changes so close to the election caused criticism and gave a lawsuit filed by Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, which his legal team later voluntarily dismissed. Chicago election officials said they had no choice at the time of the move and said all voters should have been notified of the new polling places by mail.

The cuts made it easier for Chicago election officials to staff polling stations. Chicago Board of Elections representative Max Bever said the board has a surplus of election judges for Tuesday. The board said Monday it has appointed more than 7,000 election judges, but only needs 6,450 to be fully staffed. More than 1,200 of those judges are high school students from the board’s partnership with Mikva Challenge, a youth development and civic education organization.

Kendra Cowan, 36, has been an election judge since she was 18 years old. The Oak Lawn resident works as a judge at Ridge Lawn School in Chicago Ridge. She said there was a line to vote at her seat at 6 a.m., but by 7 a.m., the electronic ballot reader had malfunctioned. The machine counted 27 ballots before reading an error. As of 8:30 a.m., calls to the technician’s hotline had not been successful. Voters vote on paper with a marker.

“People like their electronic touch screens and they like the reader to say the vote has been cast,” she said. “They don’t like markers because they tend to bleed.”

Rich Schwier, a first-timer at the polls, said he tried calling the numbers provided to resolve technical issues but kept getting an automated system. One resident who arrived at the Chicago Ridge polling station at 6 a.m. returned after 8 a.m. to vote after running errands.

Elections coordinator Melissa Thornley of Norwood Park spoke with the polling center to resolve some technical issues, none of which she was unfamiliar with in her third election working at the polls.

“I really appreciate how complicated the process is,” she said, noting that a little hiccup early in the day was common. “But democracy continues.”

She observed voting at the Independence Library in Irving Park, one of the polling places that went online after the June 28 primary. She said with the recent changes to the city’s map, she has seen some voters come in who had to be rerouted.

One couple came after visiting a nearby polling place that was closed after the primary election, Torney said. She described them as a bit annoyed as they had to be redirected to a new location anyway.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said signs posted at closed polling places will include information about the correct place to vote. Instead, the signs simply provide a QR code so voters can check their assignments online.

Thorney said she’s grateful that people have been kind despite having to be relocated. She was nervous about the press she was seeing about angry voters across the country who believed false claims of voter fraud. Indeed, some election officials across the state are taking security measures starting in 2020 and Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said police would check polling places on Tuesday and provide security for election storage and early voting locations.

Long lines lined up at early voting sites in Chicago, even forcing some voters to give up waiting. At the Merle Library early voting location in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, some voters waited up to 2 1/2 hours Monday afternoon.

Site administrator Vito Cifaldi said the long lines began on Saturday and continued through the weekend. Despite the wait, Cifaldi said most of the people who came inside were understanding and kind.

For voters who appeared at the wrong polling station, “Tribune”. there is a guide on what to do. Voters with questions or concerns can also call the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners at 312-269-7870.

Jake Sheridan contributed to this report.


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