The election is Tuesday, but Chicagoans flocked to the polls Monday in huge numbers.

Across the city, from the Loop to Edgewater to West Garfield Park to Woodlawn, there were long lines at early voting sites the day before the 2018 race wraps up. Lines snaked around the block at some places, while other sites saw voters lined up and down hallways, past bookcases and on staircases.

The waits were up to an hour and a half or more in some places.

Around midday, the line of voters outside the city’s “super-site” in the Loop at 175 W. Washington St. stretched down a hallway in the building, out the door onto Washington Street and around the corner onto LaSalle Street. A few hours later, the line still stretched for half of a city block. While voters leaving the building said the line was moving quickly and efficiently, they still reported waits of up to an hour and a half.

Voters can get in line until 7 p.m. tonight, and the site will stay open until everyone in line has voted, officials said.

Gillian Hampston, a 19-year-old DePaul student, said she waited more than an hour outside of the Loop super-site to vote in her first election.

“I think that right now our country is really divided, and a lot of voices are not being heard. So I hope my one vote has an impact,” Hampston said. She added: “It took a lot longer than I expected.”

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Jackie Garmon, a site administrator at the Loop location, said she had seen nothing like it during early voting for any recent election — except for Barack Obama’s first run for the presidency in 2008.

IT consultant Dray Nathaniel waited almost two hours to early vote Sunday, abandoning the line only when her car was about to be towed and then returning and successfully cast a ballot at the Loop early voting site Monday. She said she was motivated to vote by her children and grandchildren — and by the memory of her great-grandmother.

“I dedicate each vote to my great-grandmother, who was a young girl who could not vote. It was a whole thing, when she was given the right to vote,” Nathaniel said. Still, when she saw the line Monday and realized she would have to wait again, “I almost cried.”

By 4:30 p.m., the line had grown again, stretching east on Washington, south on LaSalle to Calhoun Place, and then back north to Washington.

Double the votes

At a press conference Monday morning, Cook County Clerk David Orr and Chicago Election Board Chairwoman Marisel Hernandez pointed to huge voter registration and early vote numbers. As of late Sunday afternoon, Chicago was approaching twice as many early votes cast as in the 2014 midterm, and the total number of people registered to vote — 1.5 million — is the highest in a midterm election since 1982.

Statewide, early voting was on track to rival the number achieved in the 2016 presidential election, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections said in a statement last week.

Hernandez and Orr were cautious but optimistic about how strong early voting would feed into election day turnout.

On “Sunday, it was a Bears game, but the [early vote] numbers knocked your socks off,” Orr said. “It’s great. You can speculate all you want as to why, but there clearly is an interest. As for turnout, ours has been, 49-50 [percent], last year was 52. It seems impossible to me that we don’t break that.”

Still, it remains to be seen whether the increase in the number of ballots cast early will translate into higher turnouts overall. Since the introduction of early voting, the numbers casting early ballots in suburban Cook County, for example, have increased dramatically, from 32,908 in 2006 to 128,011 in 2014. In those same midterm elections turnout remained stubbornly consistent at around 50 percent of registered voters.

Voters line up at the Edgewater public library Monday. | Linze Rice/For the Sun-Times

Long lines in Edgewater

At the Edgewater Branch Library at 6000 N. Broadway, lines winded through the first floor, around bookcases and up a staircase. Once voters got to a second floor, they groaned when they saw yet another line.

“The line is long as s—, long as hell,” said Joshua Eferighe, 27. “I almost walked out twice, but, you gotta do what you gotta do.”

By about 2:30 p.m. Monday, Eferighe had been in line for an hour and a half and still hadn’t voted. He had sympathy for those who saw the line and simply chose not to cast a ballot.

“What are people supposed to do, wait in line for three hours?” he asked. “It could deter some people. But, you press on. There are bigger fish to fry.”

Morgan Freeburg and Michael Gatsby had to vote Monday because they have to work on election day.

“I anticipated something for sure, but not this long,” Freeburg said after 90 minutes in line.

Both said they saw people enter the library, let out a laugh — and leave.

“You kind of know you’re going to have to wait in line, so for those who didn’t stick it out, they probably don’t care as much,” Freeburg said.

But to Gatsby, that wasn’t an option.

“This election, too, is especially important so I think it’s worth the wait,” he said.

Waits citywide

Other neighborhoods saw a big influx of voters, too.

An employee at the West Side Learning Center, an early voting location in West Garfield Park, said that the flow of voters into the site had been “consistent” all day.

Long lines formed inside the building on and off throughout the day, said the worker, who asked not to be named.

By the end of the day, however, fewer voters were coming through — but overall it was a big turnout, she said.

Andria Frink, a physical instructor for the Chicago Park District, said waits at the Jackson Park Fieldhouse in Woodlawn have routinely been two hours since the start of early voting, with lines wrapping around the building. Monday was no exception.
When the polls closed at 5 p.m. Monday, 75 to 80 people were still waiting to cast ballots, Frink estimated.
Frink handed out candy to waiting voters, but ran out Monday.

The situation was similar at the Merlo Branch of the Chicago Public Library in Lakeview and in Welles Park in Ravenswood, according to posts on social media.