New early voting location draws more traffic

Early Voting
Chicago residents vote early for the 2016 general election at 15 W Washington St. on Oct. 25. (Christen Gall/ MEDILL)

by Christen Gall

Reyna Hernandez wanted to make a difference in the election by casting her vote early on the second day of the early voting period.

“It felt like a really important statement and to see the numbers changing early, that’s one of the other reasons why I think voting early was important because it starts to send a message as folks are seeing the numbers of people voting early,” said Hernandez.

Chicago’s new voting location a few buildings down from the corner of Washington and State block, a former Walgreens, was crowded around noon Monday. Signs with early voting  were posted outside, drawing attention to the early voting location. The new “super” site was created to handle a larger number of voters.

Jim Allen, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, could not give official numbers for the early voter turnout, but noted that  on the second day of  early voting, the turnout was higher than four years ago on the 15th day of voting.

“The downtown site definitely triples our capacity for those who come downtown, but we’re seeing pretty strong use of all 51 sites,” Allen added.

Early voting started in Illinois on Oct. 24, and with a large downtown polling place and a location in each ward. The downtown voting location was previously in the basement of the Board of Election building, now just feet away from State street’s busy shopping strip.

This year early voting takes place in 37 states and Washington, DC. In 2000, only 16 percent of voters cast nationally were early or by absentee vote and by 2012, 35 percent of voters cast a ballot early, according to AP Election Group. Since 1996 early voting has increased three times the percentage, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The AP Election Group estimates that the number will grow to 40 percent for this highly media covered presidential election.

Hispanic voters nationally had the highest early voter turnout rate during the 2014 midterm election with 36.8 percent of registered voters coming out early, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Across the nation, there were news reports of spurts in early voting in a number of states. As of Tuesday,  267,317  people have voted early across Illinois with over 114,456  sending in a mail in ballot according the Illinois Board of Elections.

Christopher Swann, who lives in Chatham, said the line moved quickly when he showed up at the polling station in downtown Chicago.It only took him about five minutes to get through.

“I think it’s a little more convenient than trying to wake up early super early on a Tuesday morning before I go to work to try to get in my vote,” explained Swann.

A Democrat, Swann said he was voting for Clinton for president and Duckworth for state senator.

“There’s nothing that Trump says that resonates with me as a voter,” said Swann.

Lucy Freccia, who lives in the  Logan Square area, came downtown specifically to vote early.

“I was worried that I wouldn’t have time on election day or that the lines would be too long and it’s just nice to get it off your checklist,” said Freccia.

Hernandez, who lives on Chicago’s North Side,  always votes early in elections and said the process went quickly when she came to vote around lunchtime.

“I always vote early. One, you avoid the lines. I think it was in and out in 6-7 minutes,” said Hernandez. “It’s done and taken care of. Obviously voting is important.”

“It seems they expanded capacity here,” said Hernandez. “It’s an easier location to get to.”

“I think a lot is at stake in this presidential race. The future of the country, not just politically, but also socially is really on the line with this election, so it was really important,” added Hernandez, who voted mostly Democrat on her ballot.

Chicago residents vote early for the 2016 general election at 15 W Washington St. on Oct. 25. (Christen Gall/ MEDILL)