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You don’t need a sleeping bag to survive early voting lines, but a campstool — and a scarf — might come in handy

If you’re going to vote in person in 2020, you’re going to need to bring your patience, your mask, some comfortable shoes and probably your mobile phone to keep you entertained.   And, oh yes, appropriate outerwear.

Dozens wait in line to early vote at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood Wednesday morning.
Dozens wait in line to early vote at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood Wednesday morning.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

It took me two hours and seven minutes to early vote this week at Truman College in Uptown, only five minutes of which involved actually filling out the ballot.

The rest of the time was spent waiting outdoors in a long line that moved at a glacial pace, followed by a shorter wait indoors.

Yes, this is why I should have taken the advice to vote by mail, but I wasn’t ready to do that, and only my wife gets to say, ‘I told you so,’ because she really did tell me so, and the rest of you were just thinking it.

In my defense, I’m hardly alone.

At numerous early voting sites across the city on Wednesday, voters experienced similar delays as the first day of expanded early voting in all 50 wards coincided with warm, sunny fall weather.

Marisel Hernandez, who chairs the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, attributed the long waits to opening day glitches and voter enthusiasm. Most sites experienced no problems, she said.

Hernandez said she expects wait times to quickly improve as polling place workers establish their routines.

Marisel Hernandez, chairwoman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, speaks during a news conference at the Loop Super Site last month.
Marisel Hernandez, chairwoman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, speaks during a news conference at the Loop Super Site last month.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

That could be true, and indeed, I took a quick dash around the city Thursday to visit a handful of North and South Side polling places, finding much shorter lines than the previous day, or in some cases, no line at all.

But I expect long lines will reappear as we get closer to Election Day, especially on weekends, so a word to the wise: Be prepared.

If you’re going to vote in person in 2020, you’re going to need to bring your patience, your mask, some comfortable shoes and probably your mobile phone to keep you entertained.

And, oh yes, appropriate outerwear because you’re going to be waiting outdoors. The pandemic requires election officials to limit the number of people inside a polling place.

In certain extreme circumstances, I could even see a campstool and snacks coming in handy.

By all accounts, it was a very mellow, highly-motivated and forgiving group of 17,694 voters who went to the polls across the city Wednesday, any voting delays no doubt made more tolerable by the weather.

They broke the early voting opening day record of 17,606 in November 2016, which occurred five days closer to Election Day than this year’s start.

Voters wait at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on Wednesday.
Voters wait at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The early voting records get broken pretty much every election now as people get more used to it, and city officials clearly should have anticipated another crush this year, despite their emphasis on mail ballots.

Probably 50 people were lined up outdoors at my polling place when I arrived, along with another 10 indoors. The line looked longer, stretching the length of the building and halfway down the side, because people were being careful to stay six feet apart.

While we waited in line, scores of voters arrived to drop off their mail ballots in the secure lockbox that can be found at every early voting site. Those individuals are allowed to skip the line and proceed directly indoors to deposit their ballot envelope.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who felt like a chump watching them come and go in less time than it will take you to read this column.

An early voter drops a mail-in ballot in the secured drop box at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on Wednesday.
An early voter drops a mail-in ballot in the secured drop box at Warren Park in the West Rogers Park neighborhood on Wednesday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Yet during all the time we waited, I didn’t see anyone throw a tantrum, give up and go home or so much as show annoyance.

In keeping with my fellow voters’ positive attitudes, I won’t belabor this point, but to be clear, two-hour waits to vote should be unacceptable. They discourage people from voting.

If it happened in the South, we’d attribute it to voter suppression. Blaming the pandemic is not an acceptable excuse. It’s a sign of poor planning.

Speaking of the pandemic, everyone I saw wore a mask. Only one person had it pulled under his chin. Also, election officials never wiped down the touchscreens in my presence.

Maxine Johnson, 63 of East Garfield Park, joins hundreds of people to early vote at the Loop Super Site earlier this month.
Maxine Johnson, 63 of East Garfield Park, joins hundreds of people to stand in line and early vote at the Loop Super Site, 191 N. Clark St. earlier this month.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Only six of the nine voting machines were in working order at my polling place, which was a major source of the delays. Equipment problems were also cited at other early voting sites.

A board spokesperson said only seven touchscreens needed to be replaced citywide, but didn’t say how many had malfunctioned.

By the way, Hernandez said there’s still time to apply for a mail ballot. The city is turning around applications in 24-48 hours, she said. From my own observation, that process is going pretty smoothly. Plus, the drop boxes eliminate concerns about the post office.

One more piece of advice about those long waits. If you park in a metered space, don’t skimp on the time. Thanks to a parking ticket, this is the first time it cost me $50 to vote.