The early voting period for the Nov. 4 presidential election, which began on Columbus Day, ends, appropriately, the day before Halloween. With as much as an hour-long wait to vote, taking advantage of the early voting process is no treat. The trick, it seems, is to get there early, though even that doesn’t guarantee a quick in-and-out experience anymore, with the lines growing ever longer as the end of the early voting period approaches.
A sense of urgency and a desire to avoid what many believe will be historic crowds at polling places on Nov. 4 has led many in the Oak Park area to stop by village hall the past two weeks. With just three of 16 early voting days left as of Monday night, 153,340 votes had been cast in suburban Cook County 5,932 of them in Oak Park. Over 170,000 ballots have been cast in Chicago.
On the first day of early voting, 325 ballots were cast. On the first Saturday, Oct. 18, 525 votes were tallied. Last Saturday, Oct. 25, many people waited over two hours to cast early ballots, as 722 people crowded into village hall over an eight-hour period.
“We had them cordoned off and lined up back down the stairs,” said Village Clerk Sandra Sokol, who estimated there were “well over a hundred” voters waiting at various times Saturday.
The Cook County Clerk’s Office, which originally sent eight voting machines to Oak Park,has tried to respond to the surging interest. They added another machine after heavy voting the first two days. Monday there were 12 voting machines on site.
Barajas was one of over a dozen staff getting voters lined up, IDs checked and directed to voting machines. Voters also frequently needed help getting their activation card into or out of the machine, as well as with such nuances as how hard to touch the screen to register a vote.
Not everyone was pleased, however. One woman’s reported address of registration didn’t show up on a computer, and a phone call determined county officials had no record of the woman registering.
Barajas said there was nothing she could do, adding, “If she’s not coming up in the system, the county can’t give us an activation code.”
Sokol took the woman over by her office and offered her a chair while she went in to personally contact the County Board of Elections. She was later allowed to cast a provisional ballot.
In the meantime, county and local staff walked through the crowd offering assistance and reminding people to have their photo ID ready to present.
Liz Melara of the village’s Community Relations Department was seated across from the village hall reception desk at a circular table layered with clipboards holding early voting application forms.
“It’s about an hour, at least an hour,” she told people as they walked up to apply. “There’s places not nearly as crowded, like Berwyn and Cicero.”
Melara said people are being “pretty patient” about the long lines-at least the ones who stay. One woman glanced at the line of 40-50 people stringing from the clerk’s desk over to the health department and curving into the hallway leading to the council chambers, picked up a list of suburban early voting sites and left.
Darrick Moore of Forest Park and Patrick Sullivan of Oak Park were representative of many who chose to endure the long lines. Both were anxious to cast their ballots, and didn’t want to wait in what they fully expect will be even longer lines on Nov. 4.
“I don’t want to see the long lines at the polling booths on Election Day,” said Moore, who added that his wait had “gone smoothly.” Sullivan, who spent his time in line reading a paperback book, said he too expects “a huge turnout” on Nov. 4.
“It’s a pretty critical election,” he said. “There’s an array of things at stake.”