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Nerves — and relief — as voters hit polls in city, suburbs: ‘There might be a silver lining in all this’

After smashing early and mail voting records, turnout in the city was expected to hit at least 75%, while the entire state was on pace to meet the 71% turnout from four years earlier. 

Ava Jasma, 16, cleans a voting booth at Ceviche, a restaurant-turned-voting-precinct in the Avondale neighborhood, on Election Day.
Ava Jasma, 16, cleans a voting booth at Ceviche, a restaurant-turned-voting-precinct in the Avondale neighborhood, on Election Day.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

From the outer reaches of the south suburbs to the tony North Shore, Chicago-area voters filed through village halls, schools, sports stadiums and more on Thursday, braving stuffy conference rooms and some lines — and at least one flooded hallway — to make their voices heard in an election unlike any other.

Almost 1.1 million people had cast votes in the city by Tuesday evening, according to election officials.

With a bitter campaign season coming to a head while the nation is still in the grip of a deadly pandemic, many residents said they felt one thing after casting their ballot: relief.

For a moment, at least.

“It feels really good,” first-time voter Jada Scott said on her way out of the polling place at Stone Scholastic Academy in the West Ridge neighborhood. “At first, it was kind of nerve-racking, like the stress and stuff of everybody pressuring you, but it’s not as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

Jada Scott, 22, votes for the first time on Election Day at Stone Scholastic Academy in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.
Jada Scott, 22, votes for the first time on Election Day at Stone Scholastic Academy in the West Rogers Park neighborhood.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Waiting for the final results would be another story for Rhea Basa, an orchestra conductor at Jones College Prep, who cast a ballot for Joe Biden at a grade school in Hyde Park.

“I’m planning to exercise a lot to work off the excess energy I have,” Basa said.

“But there might be a silver lining in all this — the fact that there’s much more civic engagement, higher voter turnout, people are paying more attention,” she said.

After smashing early and mail voting records, turnout in the city was expected to hit about 75%, while the entire state was on pace to meet or exceed the 71% turnout from four years earlier.

Thousands of those votes were cast at the United Center, where inspirational tunes blasted as voters queued up at the arena-turned-voting super site.

“I have never been to [a polling place] where food is being handed out and music is being played, but it is obviously uplifting the vibe,” said Fahem Adam, 30.

Fahem Adam waits in line to vote at the United Center.
Fahem Adam waits in line to vote at the United Center.
Manny Ramos/Sun-Times

And polling places looked different across the region, thanks to COVID-19.

City precincts were provided with disposable gloves, masks and face shields, hand sanitizer and disinfectant galore. Still, four precincts in the 50th Ward were packed into Stone Scholastic Academy’s gym, making it nearly impossible not to brush shoulders with a stranger.

“It’s OK, but the precautions could be much better, like wider spacing,” voter Mohammed Mohammed said.

Heat was the issue at the South Shore Library, where a single box fan provided little relief in a cramped conference room on the second floor. Vietnam Army veteran Ivan Burnett withstood the heat to cast a vote for Biden.

“I’m ex-military. I put my trust in the person who’s going to tell the truth and look out for the best interest of everybody,” he said.

And it was a plumbing problem pestering poll-goers at James Otis Elementary in West Town. A faulty sprinkler system flooded a hallway there, forcing voters down the street to another precinct while a city election board spokesman said officials “don’t think there were damaged voted ballots because those would already be in the scanner.”

Otherwise, most voters and poll workers agreed procedures moved fairly smoothly in the city. That wasn’t the case in southwest suburban Tinley Park, where the village hall polling place resorted to using paper ballots, due to a technical glitch. Ballots were stored in a lockbox to be delivered to the Bridgeview Courthouse.

Ivan Burnett, pictured outside the South Shore Library.
Ivan Burnett, pictured outside the South Shore Library.
Anthony Vasquez/Sun-Times

While Chicago remains reliably blue, the sitting president did garner some votes in the city he’s lambasted for years, especially over its crime numbers.

“I’m an African American man who lives in an African American community and every single day I see family and friends who have been wronged by the justice system,” Austin resident Ernest Henton said. “I voted for Donald J. Trump.”

Henton had company in the farmland and subdivision of the far south suburbs, where voters in Manteno largely said they were enthusiastically hoping to give the president another four years.

Marty Williams—a middle-aged Manteno resident and former union worker for Caterpillar— said he’s a former Democrat who’s sick of seeing jobs like his shipped to other countries — a problem he said Trump was fixing.

The partisan divide was felt perhaps most acutely in one Lincoln Park household. Dan Anderson voted for Trump, while his fiancee Jennifer Kosharsky voted Biden.

“We just … agree to disagree,” Anderson said.

Politics were on the back-burner up north in Highland Park for election judge Clara Sorrentino, who said she was just glad her team was “functioning very well” in a year with unprecedented challenges.

“I hope they get it all counted and we get the answer tonight,” she said.