City of Chicago and Cook County See Surge in Voting

Voter interest in the Chicago area was strong this Election Day. Both the Chicago Board of Elections and its suburban Cook County counterpart say turnout has been higher than in previous midterm elections. This follows an early voting period that set turnout records for both the city and suburbs.

Polling places in the city closed at 7 p.m., with reports of many voters still in line which allowed them to cast a ballot. But as of the cut-off point, the Chicago Board of Elections was reporting a 53.4 percent turnout Tuesday—802,334 ballots cast—which does not include provisional ballots and vote by mail ballots which will be counted in the coming days.

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Of special interest for election officials was the millennial vote, which many feared would be low out of disinterest. As of 7 p.m., 162,042 voters ages 25 to 34 had voted in Chicago. That number is significant because the highest turnout age group is normally that of 55 to 64 year-olds. As the polls closed, 142,146 voters in the older age group had voted.

“I think we’re seeing a pretty healthy turnout,” said Marisel Hernandez, chairwoman of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. While the number of voters usually drops after the 8 a.m. rush hour, Hernandez said, as many as 45,000 Chicagoans were showing up per hour throughout the day.

Early voting in the city also set a new high, with 233,000 Chicagoans heading to the polls early, almost twice as many as the last midterm in 2014. The reasons for the surge in early voting could be twofold, says Hernandez. “I think it’s a combination of people feeling more comfortable with early voting and with vote by mail,” she said. “But with this political atmosphere and environment, people need to know that their vote counts and that they’re having a say in what’s going to happen.”

In suburban Cook County, voters, especially women, also took advantage of early voting. “Early voting was a smashing success,” said Cook County Clerk David Orr. “You get a much higher turnout during a presidential [election] than a gubernatorial. But the turnout for this early voting period actually beat out two previous presidential elections,” he said.

But a few problems crept up at a few Chicago polling places Tuesday, resulting in five precincts being kept open for at least one hour after the polls closed at 7 p.m. Officials say minor equipment snafus and a shortage of judges, along with two judges dismissed after arriving inebriated, all contributed to the delayed closing.

In about three dozen Chicago precincts, judges failed to give voters the full ballot. Unlike early voting which was all done on touch screens, voters in Chicago on Tuesday had the option of paper ballots—an option 90 percent of Election Day voters reportedly pick. Because the ballot was long, it was printed on two sheets, one containing the candidates, the other with judges and referendums. In 32 precincts, election judges failed to give out that second sheet known as the B ballot. But the Chicago Board of Elections says the problem was rectified quickly and early. It’s not immediately known how many voters might have been impacted.

Cook County also says it had some minor equipment problems as well as several hundred judges—out of about 7,000—who withdrew from taking part.

As concerns over voting security continue unabated, Cook County joined forces with the city to shore up its election systems. “We hired a cybersecurity expert and we share that person with the city to save money,” Orr said. But the Cook County clerk also says his office met with representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to reviews the county’s systems. “You can never prevent a hack,” said Orr. “The key is how quickly you recover.”

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