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Chicago struggles to find reliable, accessible polling places

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There could be fewer places to vote for the 2020 election

An older white man votes in an electronic polling booth at a laundry mat.
A polling place in Chicago.
Shutterstock

Ahead of the 2020 election, the Chicago Board of Elections is struggling to find polling places throughout the city, which could mean less places to vote or last minute location changes.

During a committee meeting on Thursday several aldermen discussed the challenges of finding sites for over 2,000 precincts with the board. Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward), whose voting precincts fall in the downtown area, said it was getting increasingly difficult and that many times it was a scramble to find places for people to vote. As building owners change sometimes new owners don’t want to deal with the hassle.

“In a perfect world, people know this is where I go to vote and we’ve had to make so many last minute changes it really does complicate things,” said Alderman Reilly.

Lance Gough, executive director of of the Chicago Board of Elections responded, “It’s harder and harder to get polling places with 2,069 precincts. To get a location for everybody it’s getting more and more difficult. We brought this up more than once about vote centers. Other places in the United States use them.”

Voting centers are an alternative to neighborhood-precincts and in order to get them in Chicago would require a statute change in Springfield. Gough explained that the centers could be placed next to bus stops or senior centers which could make voting more accessible.

The board must also ensure all voting places follow ADA regulations by 2020 and workers are beginning to survey possible polling places now. In order to do this, the board is looking into portable ramps and working with all agencies, schools, and parks.

“We have to go out and survey every location, right now we’re working to survey all the polling places making sure they are accessible. We’re looking into portable ramps, cones, door locks, handles. We’re working on that and we will get there,” said Gough.

For the upcoming election, Cook County Jail will have seven permanent polling places, for the first time, available for pretrial detainees so that everyone who is eligible to vote will be able to, Gough said.

49th Ward Alderman Maria Hadden said Chicago was one of the most accessible places she’s voted noting the early voting, vote-by-mail, and even curbside voting options. She did have an important question for Gough: When we be able to chance municipal elections from February in the city of Chicago to a more “amenable” time?

“Whatever this [governing] body wants, we will do,” said Gogh.