Lines swell in early voting finale across Chicago

Early Voting Lines
Voters wait outside of the 15 W. Washington St. voting location in downtown Chicago on November 7, 2016. (Christen Gall/ MEDILL)

By Christen Gall

Update: The number of early voters soared to about 325,000 in Chicago

On the final day of early voting on Monday, polling places were busy across Chicago, coping with long lines as the presidential election was at the top of many voters’ minds.

The line for early voters in downtown Chicago wrapped around half of one street and filled another in front of the “super site” for early voters at 15 W. Washington St. The lines began growing in the early morning, said election poll workers.

The early voting turnout in Illinois reached 1,267,563 on Sunday, up from a total of nearly 1.2 million across the state in 2012, according to the Illinois Board of Elections and news accounts.

Chicago saw 284,506 early voters as of Sunday, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, as compared a total of 243,107 for the 2012 presidential election. That is about a 17% increase.

Across the nation early voting numbers have been surging, with votes from about 42 million Americans, according to the United States Election Project. That’s up from 32.3 million early votes in 2012, according to the website.

“We’re seeing early voting up across the country,” said Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida, who specializes in the American electoral process, and who maintains the United States Election Project.

He suggested that the early voting surge reflected changes in state laws, and more interest in the election among voters, prompted partly by the presidential debates.

“You might assume from that information that people have already made up their minds,” said McDonald.

As an example, he suggested that the recent emails dealing with Hillary Clinton that FBI director James Comey asked to review, may not have had an effect on people.

In Chicago the polls were slated to close at 7 p.m. for early voting, but Chicago Board of Election spokesperson Jim Allen said they could have long lines after the polls’ scheduled closing. (Those in line when the polls close must be allowed to cast ballots).

“People tend to wait till the last days [to vote],” he added.

Female voters are one group that have been highly engaged in this election, McDonald pointed out.

And one of the early voters was Lincoln Park resident Sarah Sanders, who showed up at the downtown voting location early on Monday. It was the first time she had voted early and she did so, she explained standing in the back of a long line, to avoid any possible chaos on Tuesday.

She planned to vote for Hillary Clinton and called the possibility of having the first female president, “amazing.”

“It shows a lot of change. It’s a little crazy thinking about the Cubs, and the last time the Cubs won the World Series woman couldn’t vote,” said Sanders. “I don’t think a lot of people would have thought we would see that in our generation.”

Latino voters are another group that have shown a high turnout in early voting, with reports of surges in several states, according to news reports.

Verenice Varela, a Mexican-American from Chicago’s Southwest, said she’s been more engaged than usual.

“I’ve been more involved in this election. I been reading more about both candidates than in past elections,” said Varela.

She plans to vote for Clinton, although she’s not fully satisfied with her as a candidate.

“In general I don’t think we have the best candidates, but Hillary is the one that has more experience being in office,” said Varela, who would not vote for the candidate that, “disrespects women.”

Chris Miree came out early because of conflicts with his work schedule, saying it’s one of the more important elections. He said he’s been highly engaged in the election, though he doesn’t feel emotionally involved in it.

“The previous one with Obama and (Mitt) Romney, I had faith in both candidates,” said Miree. “This one here, I’m kind of scared for both.”

Miree said he will vote for Hillary Clinton, though he doesn’t find her to be a trustworthy candidate.

“Its unconventional how one candidate basically has a campaign on insulting others and making fun of others and how well he’s doing in polls,” said Miree. “I’m kind of concerned that future candidates will try to copy that.”

Voters wait outside of the 15 W. Washington St. voting location in downtown Chicago on November 7, 2016. (Christen Gall/ MEDILL)