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Nearly half of Chicago voters are heading to new polling places for the 2022 election

While some Chicago voters in Tuesday’s midterm elections showed up at the wrong place, elections officials appeared to avoid widespread confusion stemming from recent changes to the city’s polling places.

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The polls closed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, marking the end of an election that — while seeing much higher turnout than the June primary — saw fewer reported staffing problems. But other problems emerged, from some voters not given a full set of ballots to others confused over the use of felt pens for paper ballots.

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In Tuesday’s election, there was potential for widespread confusion after nearly half of city voters were assigned new polling places in the three months leading up to the election, but the issue was not among the top concerns reported by the Chicago Board of Elections, spokesperson Max Bever told reporters Tuesday afternoon.

“It looks like we had a relatively smooth opening to Election Day today, comparatively, to the primary election,” Bever said.

But for parts of Tuesday morning, some voters from at least nine precincts, and perhaps up to roughly two dozen, received only one ballot page instead of the two each city voter should have received, according to Bever.

Kathy Bankhead noticed the judicial retention candidates were missing from her ballot when she turned over the single sheet she received at her polling place at Luther Terrace Apartments in the Bronzeville neighborhood about 8 a.m. When she asked the election judges, no one seemed to be aware a page was missing.

She said she had to call multiple numbers, leaning on former connections as a retired lawyer, before speaking with someone from Election Central, who still couldn’t say whether Bankhead would be able to cast the second page. Bankhead later said she cast the second page after returning to her polling place.

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But Bever said voters — even if they mistakenly got just one page of the ballot before leaving — should not have been allowed to return to cast the second page. It’s unclear how many votes would be affected because of the anonymity of ballots that, once cast, can’t be traced back to voters.

“If any races are close enough that it could make a difference in the outcome, the candidates could file election contests and the court could end up approving reductions from the applicable precincts,” Bever said.

The other concern that arose was the writing instrument used to fill out paper ballots, Bever said. Felt-tip markers such as Sharpies have been preferred for the past four elections because ink bleed-through does not affect the races on the other side of the ballot.

Bever said the number of complaints about the markers seemed to have increased this year.

“I don’t want to diminish any voters’ concerns, but I also think it is linked to heightened concerns or heightened anxiety about everybody’s vote counting,” Bever said.

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Early-morning voters at Ridge Lawn School in Chicago Ridge were forced to cast paper ballots using markers after the electronic ballot reader went down about 7 a.m., said election judge Kendra Cowan. The machine counted 27 cast ballots before reading an error.

As of 7 p.m., 636,931 had been cast in Chicago, representing a turnout of 41.3% of the city’s 1.5 million registered voters, according to Bever. The heaviest voting had been recording in a Southwest Side ward popular for housing city workers, particularly police officers and firefighters.

William Harris, 60, came out to vote before 7 a.m. at New Bethlehem #4 M.B. Church on the South Side. He said rising crime in the city is an issue that brought him out to the polls. Another couple said voting rights was their impetus.

“We have the right to vote; why not take it?” said Joyce Little, 75. “Our ancestors died for the right. I always vote.”

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Election officials were aiming for a smoother day after a rocky June 28 primary. Election judge shortages caused 56 precincts in Chicago and six precincts in suburban Cook County to open late that day.

That June election saw a 23% turnout of primary voters, while Tuesday’s election saw a turnout of at least 41% by 7 p.m. That doesn’t count those who voted later or mailed in ballots not yet received.

To save money and better match a new ward map, the elections board cut nearly 40% of electoral precincts since the primary. That increased the number of voters per precinct and lowered the number of polling places, which can host multiple precincts, from 1,043 in the primary to 944 on Tuesday.

While the cuts made it easier for Chicago’s election officials to staff precincts, it’s unclear how much the changes turned off some from voting.

At the Senior Suites of West Humboldt Park, which reengaged as a polling place for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic, some voters showed up only to be redirected to nearby polling places or early-voting sites.

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One of those people was Anne Harper, who came with her nearly 90-year-old mother and her son-in-law. Although she said she usually voted at that location, she had been redirected to an apartment complex about a mile away.

They were in a rush because her mother wasn’t able to stay out for long, but Harper said they would make it to the new polling place because it is her “right and obligation to vote.”

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Chicago Tribune’s Jake Sheridan and Joe Mahr contributed.


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