Election Day is an all-hands-on-deck proposition at the Sun-Times, and it felt good to be out in the field, working on a story. My instructions were to write something about the election, and my plan was to hit as many polling places as I could, then scoot back home and write it up. I was a little worried that this is too light, out-of-step with the disasters rearing up everywhere. But it reflects what I saw and learned about.
The shock of Tuesday’s election is how ordinary it was.
Considering all that is going on around the March 17 statewide vote — a global viral pandemic, a stock market meltdown, schools cancelled statewide, bars and restaurants closed — Tuesday’s primary election proceeded with surprising smoothness, at least in places such as the Sulzer Regional Library, 4455 N. Lincoln. All the judges who were supposed to show up did show up. Voters came too.
“Aside from hand sanitizer everywhere and wiping down the pens, it’s business as usual,” said Colby Krouse, an election judge. “Lots of wipes.”
Sure, there were problems. There always are. Reports of long waits, confusion and late openings from various locations. A major challenge was with election judges. Retirees like to pick up a little extra cash and perform a civic good by serving as judges. But the threat of the virus, which is particularly dangerous for older people, prompted more than 800 judges to bow out at the last moment.
“I set this whole place up,” said Jim Maivald, surveying a roomful of voting stations, chairs and tables at the Lincolnwood Community Center, 4170 Morse. “Usually there are four teams.”
Some judges overcame their fears and showed up anyway.
“I’m very worried about it,” said Vicky Plange, speaking through a mask at the Croatian Cultural Center of Chicago, 2845 W. Devon. “But I’m taking precautions.”
“Somebody has to do this,” added Cindy Gray-Lewis. “It’s our civic duty, to represent Chicago and Illinois.”
Chicago, a city that has had its share of difficult and wild elections, from the one after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, to the Spanish Flu of 1918 and the Pineapple Primary of 1928, punctuated by 60 bombings. (”pineapple” was gangland slang for a hand grenade).
Successfully conducting an election — perhaps Tuesday’s should be remembered as the Purell Primary — is not typically a source of civic pride. But managing statewide voting was more than Ohio was willing to risk — they canceled theirs, the governor overruling a court that ordered him to hold the election. Florida and Arizona also held primaries.
Judges who dropped out in Chicago were often replaced by high school students like Noah Kern, 17, who attends North Side College Prep.
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