Election 2012: Early Voting the Ticket for Some Chicagoans

Early Voting Photo
Early voters line up at touch screen voting booths at the
Lincoln Park Library. (Photo by Angelica Robinson)

By Josclynn Brandon and Angelica Robinson
The Red Line Project

Posted: Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012

It has been a familiar sight on Election Days of the past -- long lines snaking out of voting precincts and down the street.Today, you can still see those lines -- but now as many as two weeks before the election.

Early voting has become increasingly popular in this year's presidential race, just as it was in the historic 2008 election. With the election just five days away, voters are still making their way to cast their votes early.

As of Oct. 30, roughly 146,000 Chicagoans have cast their ballot early. Various locations all over the city say they have have seen a rise in early voter turnout.

Jim Allen, communications director of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said it is difficult to measure the turnout against the 2008 election because this year, voters had 14 days to vote early, in comparison with an 18 day early schedule last year. The polls opened for early voting on Oct. 22.

"When we compare the first week of this year's early voting program to the first week of last year's presidential election we were up considerably," he explained. "We're looking at the possibility of breaking even with the 2008 numbers which would be great."

Last year, the county didn't have as many voters come out, which could be due to the rather early time frame, Allen said. This year though, voters came in huge crowds -- some standing in 90-minute lines at precincts last weekend in Bucktown -- a sign that there could be few undecided voters, he said. 

"When it comes to early voting that usually means that there are that many more people that their mind is made up or there are that many more people who indicated a desire to vote,” he added.

The 19th Ward in Beverly has been the most popular voting spot. This is no surprise to Allen, because historically the 19th Ward has been among the leaders in voter turnout. The 43rd Ward, whose early voting site is at the Lincoln Park Library, has had consistent traffic during the early voting period as well. 

Abby Awosogba went to the Lincoln Park Library to cast her vote Tuesday. As a graduate student at DePaul University, she found it convenient to walk across the street from campus to cast her vote. Although previously she had not considered voting early, it was the encouragement of her co-workers that convinced her to vote early.

"I actually was at work and a couple of my co-workers said they were voting today," she said. "I had an idea who I was voting for so I figured I might as well get it done."

Awosogba described the process as relatively easy.

"It was easy and calm… nothing outrageous,” she said. "I think I waited about 20 to 30 minutes, so it wasn't that bad."

Early Voting Line PhotoAlthough Awosogba said she likes voting on Election Day, the convenience of voting early has made her consider voting early again in the next election. And convenience is what Allen said it's all about.

"If you are ready to vote, it's a way to cast your ballot and not have to worry about a scheduling conflict on Election Day," he said.  "You don't have to worry that you have to work late, or about a daycare situation, or running errands."

Early voter Carol Bivat agreed. She said this is great alternative for people who may have conflicts on Tuesday.

“This makes it so you can pick a time during the whole week so I think more people will vote," she said.


Photo: The early voting line at the Lincoln Park Library stretches out the door. (Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

Unlike Awosogba, this is not Bivat’s first time voting early. She said last year she came out to the polls before Election Day as well. Bivat said that last time she came to vote there was not a huge turnout. And although she had to wait in a line this year, she is pleased the people are going out to vote.

“It's kind of sad when you come and there aren't a lot of people,” she said. “So I don't mind waiting in the line."

Despite the rise in popularity for early voting, Allen said the majority of the ballots in Cook County are cast on Election Day.

“There are many traditionalists among us,” he said. “And some people would rather just wait and see if there are any surprises out there." 

For those who would like to vote early, the Chicago Board of Elections website has an early voting traffic report. The site is an effort to help voters gauge which sites around the city will be less likely to have lines.

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