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Chicago's Election Day Blues

A response to the Chicago Maroon's "Problems At The Polls," which we linked to in a Papers column last week, by a faithful reader with justifiable reason to remain anonymous.

I read that Maroon piece. Some of it struck me as hyperbolic undergraduate stuff, but a lot of it was on target.

Election Day is a mess. We (collectively) rent thousands of rooms to host elections, and things go wrong all the time. Buildings are locked, they forget to give out keys or the owners oversleep. The rooms aren't big enough, don't have enough electrical outlets (which is really on the local election authority for renting such a place, but maybe they were lied to). Judges, some of them (retirees and students, mostly) are terrific but a lot of them are hacks who can't be bothered to keep up with new technology and new statutes. Again, the local election authority should be purging the worst of the worst, and the move to electronic poll books should also serve to push some out, as there is now no "station" in a polling place for the technologically averse to sit.

Part of the problem, and I say this not as an excuse but as a factor that has to be considered in any solution, is that we don't vote all that often and so Election Day has a slapdash quality to it. Any effort to organize 7,000 people to work at 1,600 locations in suburban Cook County (to say nothing of Chicago or the collars or . . . ) for a single day and then evaporate, is going to be rough. Maybe (and I'm almost serious) election authorities can learn something from those Spirit Halloween stores. They're open for six to eight weeks a year and have more money behind them, and if they fail to open on time no one really cares or is hurt, but still.

Then there's the malicious stuff. Those Republican committeemen who sent the misleading robocalls have some explaining to do. Not that they're likely to ever have to do so publicly. The thing is, anyone who voted in a polling place open after 7 p.m. due to a court order (and I guess there were a bunch of those) had to cast a provisional ballot. They (the voters) don't have to do anything to get that ballot counted; the election authority should see that it was cast after 7 p.m. but with a court order allowing it, and so it should be counted. But it's provisional just the same. Now with the Cross-Frerichs race going down to the wire, Cross's team is complaining that Chicago is stealing the election, when part of the problem is Republicans who mucked up the casting of ballots.

And then there's the incompetent stuff. I can't understand how it would take a full (and properly trained) crew of five judges more than an hour to set up a polling place. Two people ought to be able to set up the touch screens in half an hour, a third can set up the paper ballot reader, and the remaining two can set up the judges' table and post the signage. I get that the boxes are sometimes delivered to the wrong place, or to the right building but someone at the building will say the voting is in this room when the voting is in that room, but that's why judges are supposed to set up the room no later than the night before. For a polling place to be unable to open by 6 a.m., a number of things must have gone wrong, like the equipment being sent to the wrong place, or the building owner set tight restrictions on when the judges could get in early, or judges just not showing up. All of that combined could make it hard to open by 6, but even then, on Election Day, judges are supposed to be in place by 5 a.m. for final prep before a 6 a.m. open. That's current practice. So if you get there at 6:30 and they're still not open? A bunch of major things must have gone wrong. And they can't say when they will open? Wow. Just wow.

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Comments welcome.

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1. From Jeff Janulis:

Actually there is still a place for the non-tech judge - station 2, where the paper ballots are actually given out.

The old farts can sit there all day long.

But I agree . . . the old hacks need to go.

I teach the judges how to work the polls and it is very frustrating to work with these old geezers.

The young ones from the outreach programs (high schools and colleges) get the technology no problem, very little instruction on how to set up the equipment.

The old ones, forget about it . . .



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Posted on November 18, 2014


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