By Erick Johnson
Chicago’s Black neighborhoods were flooded with big lines and long wait times on the first day of expanded early voting in the city’s 50 wards.
In the city’s Black wards on the South and West sides, voters packed newly opened early voting locations. Wearing face masks, voters struggled to maintain social distances during a heated election season that, in the past several months, has been intensified during the coronavirus pandemic.
Concerned about problems with mail-in ballots, many opted to vote in person instead to ensure their vote is counted in the heated presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden. The intense race is already producing high voter turnout with Election Day just two weeks away.
Millions of voters across the country have flooded polling sites in 46 states where early voting is now underway for the General Election on November 3.
In Chicago, voters in South Shore were forced to travel to Ray Elementary School in Hyde Park, where the line stretched an entire city block before early voting began at 9 a.m. Voters in South Shore and the Washington Park neighborhoods normally vote at the Jackson Park fieldhouse, but that site and other parks have been closed since the pandemic began in March.
At the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Service Center in Bronzeville, voters in the 4th Ward waited in a massive line that stretched south on Cottage Grove into the facility’s parking lot, where it wrapped around parked cars. Some came as early as 7 a.m. and waited two hours to vote.
Anticipating large crowds, Sharon Smith said she got up at 7 a.m. to get to the early voting site to avoid the long waits. “I always vote in person,” she said.
This was18-year-old Carla Holmes’ first time voting in a presidential election. She voted early during the March primary. On October 14, Holmes came with her mother, who normally votes early. At the time of the interview, they were the last in a long line where they would wait at least an hour to enter the early voting facility and cast their ballots.
“I prefer to be here in person because it feels like more connected to the movement. I don’t trust the mail-in ballot with everything that’s going on with the post office.”
Anya Holmes said, “You get tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, but at the same time, it’s not just the presidential election. You have representatives and you have Senate races. People forget that because they’re so focused on the Electoral College and how it’s not fair. The people that represent you in Washington are important too.”
The line was also long in the 37th Ward on the city’s West Side, where voters waited for the doors to open at Ronald McNair Elementary School, 4820 W. Walton Street.
One voter, Classie Terrell joined the line at McNair Elementary 45 minutes after early voting began. She was the last in line for several minutes before other voters arrived and waited to cast their ballots. Terrell said she normally votes early in any election. Terrell said she normally does not vote on the first day of early voting in her ward, but the problems facing the country was a “major factor” in her coming to the polls sooner.
“Very much concerned. I think only voting can change anything, and I wanted to make sure that my vote was counted today. I don’t trust mail-in [voting] because all the controversy over whether it would be counted the next week or whatever.”
The early voting sites also had secured drop boxes for those with mail-in ballots. A Crusader reporter saw very few voters use the drop boxes. Most preferred to vote in person. In Hyde Park at Ray Elementary, a handful of voters dropped off their ballots in the drop box.
Early voting began October 1 in Chicago at the Loop Super Site at 191 N. Clark (Clark and Lake Street). That day, a massive line that stretched three city blocks forced people to wait at least an hour before they cast their ballots. With the coronavirus pandemic, many waited until early voting sites opened in their wards on Wednesday.
Early voting locations are open from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For a complete list of early voting locations, visit: https://chicagoelections.gov/en/early-voting.html.