Election Board chairman to call it quits after 18 years

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Chicago’s first-ever mayoral runoff will be the last election for Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal.

At his final briefing before Tuesday’s election, Neal disclosed that he’s calling it quits after 18 years in the hot seat. He’s expected to be replaced by Marisel Hernandez, the only other Democrat on the three-member board.

“I’m going to, hopefully, allow someone else to see what they can do. It’s been 18 years. It’s time for fresh ideas,” Neal said.

Neal is the son of Earl Neal, who served as the premier condemnation attorney for Mayors Richard J. Daley, Michael Bilandic, Jane Byrne, Harold Washington and Richard M. Daley.

The younger Neal, who took over his father’s thriving law practice, presided over the switch from punch card to touch-screen and optical-scan paper ballot voting.

He also oversaw the growth of the Mikva Challenge program, from 100 high school students acting as election judges to 2,000 working side-by-side with 1,000 college students.

Chicago is now the first Illinois jurisdiction to introduce electronic poll books in every precinct, replacing paper ballot applications. That allows voters who go to the wrong polling place to be quickly redirected.

Neal was also a prime-mover behind reforms that include on-line voter registration.

Although Chicago’s reputation for vote fraud is legendary, giving rise to the term early and often, Neal said Friday those days are over. In fact, he flatly declared Chicago the “best election jurisdiction” in the nation.

“A lot of people continue to look to Chicago to make jokes about something that happened 40 years ago. [But] those in the election business look to Chicago for cutting-edge technology, cutting-edge procedures in how we run elections,” Neal said.

“We have jurisdictions come from all over the United State to observe our elections. Not New York. Not L.A., but Chicago. In terms of technically how we run the election, the technology and procedures that we have in place here, we are a leader in the nation. We have the best election staff in the country. And I’m enormously proud to have worked with them for 18 years. Chicago has reform, without a doubt.”

Years ago, the election board chairman would use his final pre-election briefing to project voter turnout. Neal stopped doing that after the politicians at City Hall complained that those percentage projections actually depressed voter turnout.

On Friday, Neal would only say that he “would hope” Tuesday’s turnout would be higher than the 34 percent turnout on Feb. 24. But his final briefing was strictly a recitation of the numbers:

  • 54,541 absentee ballots mailed out, compared to 29,000 at this time before the Feb. 24 election. But only 22,443 of them have been returned. To count, they must be postmarked by Monday.
  • 110,000 early votes cast by the close of business Thursday with two full days to go. That’s already 20,000 more early voters than were cast in Round One.
  • Some of the biggest percentage increases in early voting from Feb. 24 until now are in Hispanic wards, which bodes well for mayoral challenger Jesus “Chuy” Garcia. But the highest overall numbers are in the 41st Ward (5,522 early votes), the 19th Ward (5,233), the 45th Ward (3,502), the 47th Ward (3,222), the 18th Ward (3,215), the 34th Ward (3,094) and the 43rd Ward (3,035).
  • 1.4 million registered voters citywide, up 1.4 percent from Feb. 24 and by 5.3 percent since November 2014.

Saturday is the last day to take advantage of early voting or “grace-period voting,” Neal said.

“If you are not registered, and you want to take advantage of the opportunity and privilege to vote in this municipal runoff election, you must do so by tomorrow at 5 p.m.,” the chairman said.

“You may do so at any of our early voting sites. You must have two pieces of identification with you. At least one must show your current address. We will register you and you must vote at the same time.”

Absentee Ballots and Early Voting by Ward

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