Chicago voters gripe about chaotic Election Day

November 6, 2012

By Lauren Chooljian and Scott Kanowsky

(WBEZ/Andrew Gill)
Voters wait to cast their ballots in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.

Updated at 5:30 PM

Voters across Chicagoland are running into problems online and at the polls.

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners website was down for much of the day, and at the polls, monitors say voters in Chicago had a number of problems casting their ballots.





 

People often use the website to find their polling place and check sample ballots. This afternoon, the site directed people automatically to the state Board of Elections website for information. Earlier, voters experienced a white screen, constant loading or error messages. 

"The Chicago Election Board web site is getting deluged with unprecedented levels of traffic, including what we believe are outside voter-service organizations," said Communications Director Jim Allen in a statement, adding they've never had this problem before.

Voters can get information at the state’s website or by visiting Google's election tool.

 

Poll monitors say voters reported numerous issues in Chicago. There are widespread reports of people showing up to vote at their old precincts, only to find the precincts had changed, and election judges having no ideas where to send people instead. Many people reported not getting any notice in the mail that their polling place had changed.

Election judge Jim Becker said he only ran into a few issues during this morning's rush, but he could tell voters were disappointed when they were told to go elsewhere.

"You know these people really want to vote, and some of them have been voting at these places for 20 years and they changed it," Becker said. "Now they’re not sure where the hell to go. And I’m not sure where the hell to send them."

Chicagoan Laura Ormaza said she went to her assigned polling place this morning with her voter registration card. But she said officials told her she was in the wrong precinct and wouldn’t let her vote.

“I shouldn’t have to yell and argue and fight with someone for my right to vote," Ormaza said. "It’s absurd, it’s unheard of.”

Ormaza said she was eventually allowed to cast her ballot, but she was concerned for other voters who were turned away and not willing to fight.

Poll watchers said other issues include long lines, broken voting machines and improperly issued provisional ballots:

“There certainly does seem to be a certain amount of chaos out there today," said Marissa Liebling, who heads the Voting Rights Project at the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She said the voter protection hotline set up by her office has been experiencing an unusually high call volume. 

Hyde Park resident Michael Hobaugh is one of the South Siders who reported getting provisional ballots, even though they were registered to vote. Hobaugh says election officials even found his name on voter rolls, but still gave him a provisional ballot.

“I’m worried it may point to some systemic issue that I wasn’t alone in this but that there were several of my neighbors just in that 15-minute period that I was addressing this that were having the same problem.”

Chicago election officials acknowledged there were problems this afternoon. 

City Board of Elections Chairman Langdon Neal says there were issues with some of the judges, and too many provisional ballots being issued.

"We knew there would be some bumps with the redistricting, I think that we were kinda surprised at the great number of people that voted within the first two hours of the day," he said, adding they're investigating the problems.

The suburbs are also having some issues.

Voters in DuPage County are reporting deceptive robocalls. The calls claim the election has been rescheduled or that Obama has dropped out, according to the Voting Rights Project. Officials at the Project say they don't know who is responsible or how many calls were made. Also in DuPage County, a U.S. citizen told his priest that he got a letter threatening relatives with deportation if he voted.

In Kane County, voters say election judges unnecessarily required IDs. Officials there say they haven’t heard any direct complaints.

Over in Will County, Rey López-Calderón said they had a "dramatic" day. He's executive director of Common Cause, a non-profit advocacy group.

He said the day started with at least 20 voters showing up at a polling place that had been relocated. The Will County Clerk’s office told him mailings were sent out regarding the change.

López-Calderón was more concerned, however, about provisional ballots being handed out incorrectly. He says in a Joliet precinct, a Spanish-speaking voter ran into trouble when a poll watcher for the Republican Party told election judges that non-English speakers should be given provisional ballots.

“I had to intervene, had to call a lawyer,” López-Calderón said. “We finally got someone in Will County who knew the law and said, 'You know, you’re right.' ”

The voter in question was eventually allowed to vote with a regular ballot after waiting for over an hour for an official decision. López-Calderón said other precincts had no bilingual election judges or voting materials available, even though that's required by federal law.

In Cicero, Common Cause says, two poll monitors were improperly ejected from a polling place after police were called to the scene. Lopez-Calderon says representatives from Cook County Clerk David Orr’s office told poll watchers they were required to stay behind set boundaries. But by law, poll watchers are by law allowed to observe all aspects of the election process so long as they do not speak to voters or touch voting materials.

Earlier this morning, voters say they were surprised by long waits around the region.

Bucktown resident Sarah Harris: "I was there at 6:00 [AM] thinking, easy peas, 10 minutes in and out and then I’ll go for a run," Harris said. "I waited for a good 45 minutes." 

Voters looking for fewer headaches in the next election could follow voter Jennifer Striegel’s advice.

"To be honest we live across the street so we were able to spy, and when there was no line we came over," Striegel said.

The polls are scheduled to close in Chicago at 7 p.m. Voters who are in line at 7 will be allowed in, but anyone after that won't make the cut. 

NOTE: WBEZ's Caroline O'Donovan and Shannon Heffernan contributed to this report.

 

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