Thousands of voters overwhelmed new early voting sites that opened in Chicago’s predominantly Black wards on Monday, surprising election officials who struggled to handle large crowds of people seeking to cast their ballots before the Nov. 8 election.
Long lines and high wait times were the norm at several early voting sites in the Bronzeville and South Shore neighborhoods, where parking lots were full and voter touch screens were kept busy throughout the day. The sites were among 50 new locations that the Chicago Board of Elections opened Monday.
At an early voting site in Jackson Park, the wait time to cast a ballot was as high as two hours Monday. There were also long lines at an early voting site at Bronzeville’s Martin Luther King Community Center, where drivers also spent several minutes to find a place to park. At an early voting site at the Chicago Bee Library, extra touch screens were brought in to help meet the large demand. The site’s 10 touch screens apparently were not enough to handle the large crowds.
Former Illinois State Sen. Emil Jones was one of many frustrated voters who were forced to wait at least 30 minutes to vote at the Chicago Bee Library early voting site.
“I don’t like the waiting,” Jones said. “Someone needs to call the Board of Elections and do something.”
One manager at an early voting site said she expects large crowds all week. Some officials are attributing the large voter turnout to the high-profile race between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican opponent Donald Trump. As of Oct. 20., some 1.6 million Americans had already voted, according to the Associated Press.
The high turnout comes as Black leaders remain worried that many Blacks will stay home and not vote in this election. And it’s still too early to tell if voter turnout among Blacks will remain high from now until Nov. 8.
After all, Cook County State’s Attorney Alvarez has been defeated and will soon leave her job. Dorothy Brown is heavily favored to keep her job as Cook County Circuit Court clerk. There are no campaign signs in yards or on street signs.
Chicago’s Black leaders in the past several weeks have held registration drives to boost turnout. After Cook County state’s attorney candidate Kim Foxx and Brown won big in the primaries, many voters may think their races are over, but they are not. Without Black support, other races and issues could lose support and leave the future of the Black community in jeopardy.
One is a referendum that asks voters whether the office of the Cook County recorder of deeds should be eliminated and its duties given to the Cook County clerk’s office. The majority of Cook County’s white and Latino commissioners believe the move would save the county $800,000. However, Black leaders are worried that Karen Yarbrough, the head of recorder of deeds office, will eventually lose her job, as well as scores of Black employees who work in that department. The chances of the referendum passing are great because most weary Cook County taxpayers are white and a chunk of them are Latino.
U.S. Senate Race
Low turnout is also a concern for Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth. She’s campaigning for the Black vote to defeat Republican incumbent Mark Kirk in a race that’s in the national spotlight. Many believe that the Democrats have a good chance of reclaiming control of the U.S. Senate.
Duckworth’s biggest threat is low voter turnout. During an interview with the Chicago Defender’s editorial staff Oct. 18, Duckworth expressed concern about the impact of Black voter turnout on her campaign.
“It’s critically important,” she said. “That’s why I have worked so hard and traveled throughout the state to make sure that communities are not left behind.”
The Associated Press reported on Oct. 19 that Trump’s comments and views about minorities are pushing voter turnout to record levels during the early voting season, but it’s uncertain how many of those voters are Black.
Clinton may win the main prize, but if low voter turnout is a problem, Blacks may still lose opportunities to win big in Chicago and even bigger in Washington.
“They [voters] need to be concerned,” Yarbrough said. “They don’t need to be complacent. I don’t know what people are going to do. There’s a lot at stake here.”