As Chicago Early Voters Break Records, One Man Has Finger On Pulse Of City’s Anxiety | WBEZ
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As Chicago Early Voters Break Records, One Man Has Finger On Pulse Of City's Anxiety

As Chicagoans keep breaking records for early voting this year, Jim Allen, communications director for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, says the city is ready for this election season to be over.

So far, more than 275,000 people have cast their ballots, surpassing 2008’s record of 260,000 early votes.

It’s shortly after noon this Sunday, the last weekend day before the election, and Allen is swimming in voter data. There’s only one more day of early voting left.

When asked if his life was “just spreadsheets,” he laughs.

“No, it’s also correspondence. It’s also website. It’s also mass mailings to 1,500,000 voters, it’s emails, it’s…” He sighed and laughed again. “Ah, you got me smiling. It’s rare this close to an election.”

By then, the statistics had appeared on his screen.

He was looking at the number of people who had voted from 10:00 a.m. to noon, in the first two hours of early voting on Sunday.

“Holy cow! Oh my goodness,” he said, genuinely shocked.

More than 7,500 people had already voted.

“I’ll put it this way. We’ve never had a Sunday like this,” he said.

To put Sunday’s votes into context, last Sunday, October 30, saw about 11,000 votes.

But if the pace stays up, this Sunday could have as many 16,000 early votes.

“Usually, Sundays are when the fewest amount of people want to use early voting,” Allen said.

“They’ve got other things to do with their lives, whether it’s baseball, NFL football, shopping, getting together with family, barbequing, or, on a beautiful day like today, raking the leaves. Voting? No, not so much. So 7,500 in the first two hours... Chicago is proving us wrong,” Allen said.

Meanwhile, even vote-by-mail requests are almost breaking records. So far, they’re the highest since 1944, when troops were deployed around the globe in World War II.

It’s important to note that early voting is not an indicator of overall turnout. Instead, the number of early votes tells us how many people already have their minds made up.

Allen said it’s not difficult to make sense of why so many people are voting early this year.

“There’s been a palpable sense of exhaustion, and frustration, and anxiety over this election, he said. “I think people are definitely looking for it to be over, one way or the other.”

Allen said that he’s also expecting heavy turnout on Election Day. “We fully expected it to be gangbusters,” he said. “It’s gong to be busy.”

Early voting runs through Monday, November 7. All 51 Chicago polling locations will be open, and Chicagoans can register and vote early at any voting spot.

On Election Day itself, voters must use the precinct assigned to their home address.

Allen himself cast an early ballot, saying he doesn’t have time to vote on Election Day.

He says on Tuesday, he’ll be at work from 4:30 in the morning until midnight or 1:00 a.m. “I have really bad coffee breath and no time to go home,” Allen said.

“None of us vote on Election Day,” he said. “It’s a foreign concept once you work for an election authority.”


Greta Johnsen is WBEZ’s weekend anchor/reporter. Follow her @gretamjohnsen.

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