For elections officials, Chicago’s Feb. 22 election went off largely without a hitch and may have even set a record for the fastest reported election – but the day was not without some glitches.
In the Austin area, rambunctious candidates, megaphone-clad SUV drivers and allegedly drunk election judges kept the day lively.
Just short of 400 “issues” were reported on Election Day in the 24th, 28th, 29th and 37th Wards, according to data provided by the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners – though most of those were related to minor computer malfunctions, voters confused about their polling place and the occasional election judge not showing up for work.
Jim Allen, spokesman for the elections board, said those numbers are not unusual and no major issues were reported.
“(M)ost all of them represent minor problems that we can resolve pretty easily,” Allen wrote in an e-mail this week. “It seems in very local contests there might be more of a temptation to cross the line, and the contests can, in some cases, become very personal and heated. But overall, we did not see a large number of complaints, and the election went very smoothly.”
Poll-watchers and voters kept their ears and eyes open Feb. 22 for voting shenanigans that, for some, have come to represent the dark side of Chicago politics.
In the 29th Ward, the alert was further heightened by an anonymous letter circulated before the election that claimed cronies of incumbent Ald. Deborah Graham planned to cart around a van-full of supporters to cast repeated, illegal votes for the alderman.
Patricia Brown, a poll-watching volunteer for 29th Ward aldermanic candidate Thomas E. Simmons, spent the day in the bitter cold outside the Great True Vine Mission Baptist Church at 5934 W. Division St.
About 2 p.m., a fellow pollwatcher said he’d spotted what would have been a significant violation: an election judge allowing a person to vote twice. Tensions rose as investigators from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office paid a visit, but the complaint was later deemed unsubstantiated, a spokeswoman for the office said.
“We’re here,” Brown said on Election Day, rubbing her hands together to keep warm, “and we’ve gotta make sure everything’s right.”
Dozens of complainants said campaign workers were handing out fliers too close to a polling place – sometimes even inside the building, like at the 24th Ward’s Anton Dvorak School at 3615 W. 16th St., and the 28th Ward’s Faraday Elementary School at 3250 W. Monroe St.
Illinois election law requires that campaigning be conducted 100 feet from the polling room door.
Other complaints alleged other sketchy vote-getting tactics:
- Around 10 a.m., voters at the 24th Ward’s United Baptist Church, 4242 W. Roosevelt Road, complained that people were trying to buy their votes for $5 outside the church, but they did not know for which candidate.
- Someone at Faith Community Church, a 24th Ward polling place at 3056 W. Polk St., complained about 10 a.m. that a gold Ford Explorer with a poster of candidate Vetress Boyce had pulled up 10 feet in front of the building’s door. The person inside was playing music and speaking through a loudspeaker, telling people who to vote for, the complaint said.
- Not 10 minutes later at the same location, someone made a similar complaint about a Boyce supporter with a megaphone, and also alleged that an election judge at the polling place was drunk.
Some accused Carmelita Earls, a 28th Ward candidate whom the courts deemed ineligible for the race just a few days before the election – and whose name still appeared on the ballot – and her supporters of creating disturbances at several polling places.
- A complaint at 9:25 a.m. claimed Earls’ supporters were inside Helen M. Hefferan School Elementary School, 4409 W. Wilcox St., arguing with judges about the candidate not being on the ballot.
- Fifteen minutes later, a complaint stated that Earls herself “created (a) disturbance” at Mary McLeod Bethune School, 3030 W. Arthington St., by trying to swipe official paperwork that informed voters she was ineligible for office.
- Earlier that morning, a complainant at McLeod had stated an unnamed “candidate” was in the school “touching materials and starting a ruckus.”
And in the 37th Ward, a pregnant election judge at Christ Lutheran Church, 1511 N. Long Ave., called it an early day; she started having labor pains just before 7 a.m.
Election officials haven’t taken any action as a result of the complaints. They will be taking complaints again April 5, when the runoff in the 24th Ward – and 13 others across the city – is held. The Election Central hotline that day will be (312) 269-7870.