Better late than never, Chicago City Council enters electronic voting age

The Illinois General Assembly has done it for years. On Wednesday, the City Council debuted electronic voting, with IPads at each alderperson’s seat and three video boards behind the mayor’s rostrum to display each vote.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, where members used an electronic voting system for the first time. Ballots were cast using iPads at each member’s seat.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot presides over a Chicago City Council meeting on Wednesday, where members used an electronic voting system for the first time. Ballots were cast using iPads at each member’s seat.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Better late than never, the Chicago City Council on Wednesday finally entered the 21st Century with the debut of electronic voting — something that’s been a fixture in Springfield for years.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to make history here,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared shortly after 1:30 p.m., when the first item on the Finance Committee agenda was finally called for a vote.

City Clerk Anna Valencia, who has championed the $3.5 million modernization project, instructed alderpersons: “Please get out your IPads and log in. Please hit refresh. The voting is now open. Raise your hand if you need help and we will come around.”

A few minutes later, Valencia declared the voting closed. The vote, 48 to 0, was displayed on three giant video screens above the mayor’s rostrum, bright green boxes beside alderpersons voting yes.

“Change is not easy. No one really likes it. But, we do need to go into the 21st Century,” the clerk said after the meeting.

It was the first major change in the archaic way the council has done business since 2017, when a court order forced members to begin each meeting with 30 minutes of public comment.

During subsequent roll calls Wednesday, Valencia had to admonish alderpersons by name to cast their votes and accept other voice votes.

“Congratulations on your first electronic voting venture,” Lightfoot said when the meeting ended.

Noting that digital legislation is next, the mayor said, “Let’s get rid of all the paper, shall we?”

The belated entry into the electronic voting age was delayed by three-and-a-half hours.

That’s how long alderpersons spent on commemorative resolutions honoring: outstanding women; former Mayor Harold Washington; former Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike; and the 24th District police officers who made arrests after ugly episodes of antisemitism in Rogers Park.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) uses an iPad to sign in for roll call at a meeting of the Chicago City Council on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. The electronic voting system was being used this week for the first time.

Ald. George Cardenas (12th) uses an iPad to sign in for roll call at a meeting of the Chicago City Council on Wednesday. The electronic voting system was being used this week for the first time.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

When the council finally got down to real business, the action was fast and furious.

• By a roll call vote of 34 to 13, the council agreed to pay $1.67 million to compensate five people dragged from a car by CPD officers responding to rampant looting at the Brickyard shopping center in May 2020. The settlement stalled last month after a racially charged committee debate. Ald. Ray Lopez (15th) warned then that rewarding Mia Wright and her friends would be “opening a Pandora’s box” to lawsuits from people who had been “willfully trying to destroy the city” on that tumultuous weekend of protests, looting and mayhem.

• Chicago, took what Lightfoot called a “huge step forward toward a clean energy future” by becoming the “second-largest city behind New York” to mandate divestment of city funds from fossil fuel companies.

• Council members also imposed two more years of penalties against developers who tear down single-family homes or multi-unit buildings in Pilsen and in neighborhoods along the 606 trail.

• A $107.8 million deal was approved paving the way for transferring 202 acres of city-owned land at O’Hare International Airport for a western access roadthat’s been talked about for 30 years. Aviation Commissioner Jamie Rhee said the money will “activate new airport development projects.”

• The council empowered Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox and Housing Commissioner Marisa Novara to reach agreements with the Cook County Land Bank Authority to provide a new tool to reclaim abandoned and distressed properties concentrated in communities of color.

• Alderpersons agreed to spend $3.5 million in tax-increment-financing funds for parking, traffic signal, roadway and pedestrian improvements needed to convert the former Morton Salt shed, 1357 N. Elston Ave., into a 4,000-seat concert venue and restaurant space.

• They also OK’d a pair of settlements: $450,000 to compensate the family of a 66-year-old man killed in April 2017 after colliding with an unmarked police vehicle speeding through Roseland; and $175,000 from a July 2017 crash involving a city employee and a woman left with severe and permanent injuries.

• And, they approved a long-stalled ordinance prohibiting anyone convicted of treason, sedition, related offenses, or a hate crime, from doing business with the city.

Also Wednesday, the Latino Caucus introduced a revised city ward map it hopes to present to voters in a June 28 referendum that reflects 10 changes made to accommodate CHANGE Illinois to keep “key communities from being significantly splintered. “

Those changes include keeping Englewood in two wards, instead of six or seven, and keeping Washington Park in the same ward as Woodlawn. They changesome boundaries in six other wards to align with the map drawn by the CHANGE Illinois commission.

And Ald. Silvana Tabares (23rd) introduced the latest in a parade of changes to Chicago’s ethics ordinance — this time, a measure that would prohibit the spouses and domestic parties of alderpersons and citywide elected officials from being paid lobbyists.

The ordinance was promptly shunted off to the Rules Committee, where legislation opposed by the mayor traditionally goes to die. Lightfoot said she is “a little concerned” because the “chief sponsor is a handmaiden of” indicted former Il. House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Lightfoot won’t slam Wilson over gas giveaway traffic

During a news conference that followed Wednesday’s meeting, Lightfoot pointedly refrained from criticizing mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, who also ran against Lightfoot in 2019, for the traffic nightmare caused by last week’s gasoline giveaway, which could be repeated during an even bigger freebie planned for Thursday.

Instead, the mayor acknowledged gas prices are “outrageous.”

“I understand people are hurting and looking for some kind of leg up,” Lightfoot said.

Hinting strongly at a temporary waiver of the city’s gas tax, Lightfoot said:: “We’ll be announcing longer-term relief for residents. ... We’re gonna do our part to make sure we help people at this time of need.”


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