Chicago elections officials apologize for polling place confusion
(MCT) — Chicago elections officials apologized to the hundreds of frustrated Chicago voters who were turned away from their neighborhood polling places today amid confusion and sometimes angry exchanges.
By 5 p.m. today, the elections board had fielded more than 1200 calls about voters unable to find where to vote.
"We had a bit of a bumpy ride this morning," said Langdon Neal, chairman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. "We apologize for those two hours of a bumpy ride, but we think we have righted the ship."
Neal encouraged all voters who threw up their hands and went to work without voting to try again this evening.
Neal said the confusion originated from the redrawing of ward maps which left 20 percent of all voters with new polling places. It was exacerbated by the failure of the city’s elections Web site to handle the overwhelming demand.
By 6:30 a.m. the site had crashed, along with the new system for texting poll locations, leaving many voters and election judges stranded with no way to find their polls.
Neal said the crashed Web site in turn caused "a tremendous crush of phone calls." He said the Web site was redirected to the state elections Web site.
"We need a more robust Web site," he said. "We pride ourselves on being ahead of the voters, unfortunately this time we find ourselves playing catch up."
During a 4 p.m. news conference, Neal backed away from earlier statements from his office that the Web site crash may have been caused by a "malicious attack" of computer generated requests.
"We have no evidence to support that at this time," he said.
Neal also said he is disappointed in a few election judges--trained to facilitate the vote--who "looked to interfere with the process" instead.
Brogan Pilkington had been ready to vote in her first election.
The Columbia College junior said she had an Obama yard sign, a new voter registration card and a sample ballot reflecting her research on candidates for everything from president to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
But the 20-year-old never cast a ballot. Instead, she said she trudged around the city for four hours Tuesday trying unsuccessfully to vote.
Her first stop was at 1148 W. Chicago Ave., not far from her River West home. Election workers there couldn’t find her name on a list and sent her to another site on Maypole Avenue. She wasn’t on the list there, either, so she was directed to 1170 W. Erie St. Pilkington said she couldn’t find that location, but walked into another polling place where she was told voting provisionally wasn’t even an option because she was in the wrong ward.
“This thing took four hours,” she said. “I wasn’t going to give up until it was 7 o’clock and the polls closed or I voted.”
The first-time voter registered this summer and said she received a confirmation card in the mail shortly after that. While Pilkington was confident that Obama would win Illinois, she said it was still tough not having her voice heard.
“This was really important,” she said. “I really care about what happens in our society.”
In President Barack Obama's old polling place, too, observers from Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office reported an "evasive" judge they suspected of hiding voter rolls to frustrate voters.
In several other precincts, voters reported that judges were improperly demanding official identification. In another, voters legally on the rolls were told to go to another precinct, said James Allen, a Chicago elections spokesman.
"We have never needed a category in our complaints database for suppression," Allen said. "Maybe we do now."
All those incidents were under investigation by the elections office.
"I can tell you those judges will not be working for us again," Neal said.
Allen said the incidents are still under investigation and no conclusions were reached.
In all, only three judges were removed on Tuesday - one for being sleepy, another for her belligerence towards voters, and another for intoxication.
"We call them sleepy, grumpy and drunky," Allen said.