Few problems in Southland, but turnout is ‘paltry’
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org March 20, 2012 10:16AM
Debbie Halvorson does some last minute campaigning at the Skyline Resturant in Chicago Heights. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 22, 2012 8:08AM
There was a computer glitch here or there, and some Southland voters in both Cook and Will counties showed up at the wrong voting sites, unaware their polling places had changed.
But overall, Tuesday’s Illinois primary has been “one of the smoothest Election Days,” said Courtney Greve, a spokeswoman for Cook County Clerk David Orr.
Not so great was the turnout.
“It is pretty paltry,” Greve said.
She said an average primary election usually generates a 25 percent turnout, but it was expected to be lower Tuesday.
Statewide, nearly a quarter of Illinois’ counties grappled with ballots that were too big to fit into scanning machines. The glitch was expected to slow vote counting in some areas.
Because of early voting and the expectation of low turnout that is the norm for primaries — and to save money — both Cook and Will counties reduced the number of voting precincts for Tuesday’s election.
That meant some voters showed up at sites that no longer were polling places.
Frank Slotkus, a custodian at Palos Park Presbyterian Community Church, had the task of breaking it to voters who showed up early Tuesday morning that the church no longer was a polling place.
“At least a dozen people I’ve turned away. It’s terrible,” he said.
Greve said the number of precincts was reduced from 1,937 to 1,673, so the Cook County clerk’s office last month sent out new voter registration cards, with information about new polling locations, to all 1.4 million voters. They were sent out close to Election Day specifically so the information would be fresh on people’s minds, Greve said.
She said the clerk’s office got very few such complaints throughout suburban Cook County.
Slotkus eventually got a sign for the church door, letting people know where to go to vote.
Still, he wondered whether turnout might be affected.
“It’s going to tick them off where they aren’t going to vote,” he said.
Some polling places in Will County changed as well. L.V. Cutforth, of Homer Glen, went to the wrong one and said that if he could find the right one, he would be “voting for Herbert Hoover.”
Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots said she reduced the number of polling places from 445 to 303.
Few glitches, but ...
Victoria Barlog, an Orland Park voter, experienced a computer glitch that she saw as an attempt to help Democrats.
She opted to use electronic voting rather than a paper ballot at the Orland Park Sportsplex and a printing problem left her “very angry.”
“My concern is that the Republican votes are not being counted properly,” she said. “They said, ‘Oh, yeah, your vote was tabulated,’ but how do I know that? I have no record of my vote.”
Barlog said she would have asked for a paper ballot if she would have known ahead of time that there was a glitch.
Greve said the touch screen froze after the woman voted, and when it was rebooted, election judges were able to confirm that her vote was good, and was counted. The election judges did not allow anyone to use the machine after her until the problem was corrected.
“We had some equipment troubleshooting, but that happens in every election,” Greve said. “There have been so few problems.”
Reason to vote
For some voters, anger — or at least dissatisfaction with that status quo — was the motivation to vote.
At Faith Christian Reformed Church in Tinley Park, Rich Mikolainis thought it was important to weigh in on the Republican presidential race. He said he thought Mitt Romney had the best chance to oust President Barack Obama in November’s general election, which he believes will determine whether the United States will be a socialist or capitalist society.
“We need change in Washington,” he said. “Are we going to be a democratic country or a communist country? We have to have Republicans in government in every office in this country.”
Some voters were hopeful that Illinois could be a swing state in the race.
“It’s exciting. We could be a deciding factor,” said Kerry Schaefer, a Republican voter from Mokena.
“Illinois could make a difference. I don’t know if it will,” said Dianne Ross, a Homer Glen voter. “That’s what makes it exciting. Nothing is a given. People are not always predictable.”
Despite the focus on the Republican presidential candidates, there were other reasons people came to the polls on a beautiful March day — including local Democratic races and referendums.
“The Republicans have put on such a poor showing I felt I had to support the Democratic candidates,” said Suzi Opoka, of New Lenox.
Ron Kastner, of Mokena, voted “to get some Democrats elected because they are for the working people,” he said.
There were also those who voted to complete their civic duty.
“There’s no strong candidates in either party. We need a third party,” said Barb Madden, of Orland Park, but she felt like she had to vote, noting that “people in other countries die for a chance to vote and we just blow it off.”
“I just felt a responsibility as a person of the United States,” said Richard Johnson, who was voting at Harnew School in Oak Lawn.
Jerry Ruhl, also voting there, said the Republican presidential primary was the key race for him.
“We need to try to get someone in there who’s going to do something. We need a change,” he said. Despite his interest in the race, he said, “When I go in, I vote for the person, not the party.”
Roger Ross was concerned about the advisory deer-culling referendum, which seemed to bring voters out in Homer Glen. It asks residents whether they support the Will County Forest Preserve District’s program that uses sharp shooters to thin the deer population at various preserves.
“We need to cull the deer,” Ross said. “I walk in the woods every day and I see the trillium disappearing. It takes seven years to bring them back. People feed the deer and get attached to them, but they are not looking out for the whole herd.”
Angie Holland and Sheri Elsouso were against deer culling, saying they moved to Homer Glen for its natural beauty.
Culling is “cruel,” Holland said. “That is not living in harmony with nature.”
Regarding the presidential race, she said, “I’m not too sure about that.”
Cutforth said the forest district should have allowed — and charged for — bowhunting.
“They could have made money on this,” he said. “but, no, they’re not that brilliant.”
Voters in several south suburbs also were asked to vote on a referendum on electricity aggregation, which would allow their municipalities to buy electricity in bulk for everyone and save people money. Those not wanting to participate would have the opportunity to opt out of the program.
Clarence and Joan Gale were a bit skeptical of a government trying to save them money.
“It doesn’t mean that much to me. I have a small house,” Clarence Gale said.
“I don’t feel informed on the issue,” Joan Gale said. “People should have to opt in to the program, not opt out.”
Kim Putz, of Orland Park, had a more personal motivation for voting. She said a neighbor works for Cook County Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown and was afraid her job would be in jeopardy if Brown isn’t re-elected.
“She’s done a great job for such a long time,” Putz said.
Putz’s daughter, Linda, 5, was excited about going into the polling place, too, so Putz chalked it up as a lesson in civics that will apply in an election in the 2020s.
“She should know she’s got to do her part,” Putz said.
Contributing: Mike Deacon, Bob Rakow