Election authorities report relatively uneventful day
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org April 9, 2013 8:34AM
Rich Durante of Naperville casts his ballot for the Municipal Elections at Naperville's Municipal Center on Tuesday, April 9, 2013. | Brian Powers~Sun Times Media
Updated: April 9, 2013 7:16PM
Drizzle was starting to trickle from the sky as voters trickled in to the gym at River Woods Elementary School in far southeast Naperville early Tuesday morning. Classes hadn’t yet begun, and the voters so far were largely staying home as well.
By 7:30 a.m., election judges for Will County Precincts 2 and 7, both of which have polling places at the Naper Boulevard school, had seen just 25 voters come through. Nobody was waiting when the polls opened at 6 a.m., they said.
“About one every ten minutes,” said Bill Hannum, one of the workers staffing the two tables where voters were checking in, estimating the pace of those coming in since they had opened the door. His coworkers nodded their consensus.
The low-key participation continued through the late afternoon hours.
“Some areas are a little heavier than others, but basically it’s a low turnout,” said Will County Clerk Nancy Schultz Voots, who was predicting the usual 18 percent or so of registered voters would cast ballots. “It’s not anywhere near the presidential election, that’s for sure.”
Last November, 71 percent of the county’s voters took part in the general election.
DuPage County also was seeing modest numbers at the polling places.
“We’re right around 18, 19, 20 percent,” said Bob Saar, executive director of the DuPage Election Commission, in the late afternoon.
The atmosphere of calm didn’t entirely predominate. Voots said when election judges arrived at 5 a.m. at the Tallgrass Clubhouse polling place on Naperville’s southwest side, the place was locked and the employee with the key was nowhere to be found. Naperville police, the Will County sheriff’s office and Wheatland Township authorities were contacted, and finally a field technician in Voots’ office used a screwdriver to pry open the door. The booths were ready to receive voters at 6:36 a.m., she said.
“I didn’t just do this on my own. I had to run it by my state’s attorney,” Voots said. “He said, ‘You have to do what you have to do.’”
It turned out the person responsible for opening up the clubhouse is a new employee and hadn’t been told of the early-morning duty.
“He felt bad about it,” Voots said.
In DuPage, one polling place reported concerns early in the day that some of the voting stations were positioned in a way that made it possible for voters’ choices to be seen from outside the booth.
“Quite frankly, we agreed with them,” Saar said, adding that his staff will work up a schematic showing how the booths need to be configured, before the next election round a year from now.
A couple of schools in the Darien and Woodridge area had reported safety concerns that were understandable, “especially in light of the latest tragedy,” Saar said, referring to the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December.
DuPage once had polling places in about 200 schools, Saar said, and now they number about 17 or 18. Woodridge school administrators apparently overlooked the need to cancel Tuesday’s classes, he said, as most do when voters are expected to come and go during the instructional day. Election officials agreed to dispatch a couple of armed plainclothes sheriff’s deputies, Saar said, noting that uniformed officers can be perceived as coercive.
The DuPage Election Commission board has the “unique ability” to provide an armed guard at the polling places, he added, predicting that his office will hear similar requests from other schools. Instead of Tuesday’s $900 expense, the cost could rise to some $30,000, Saar said.
With polling-place requirements that include ample parking and accessibility for those with physical disabilities, and with schools today often setting up shop in churches and park district facilities, he said it’s not a simple matter to remove voting sites entirely from locations where there are children.
“It seems like they’re bringing up some serious questions,” Saar said.
The Election Commission also received some reports of relatively minor troubles at certain sites. Two pollwatchers “got into it” at a polling place in Glendale Heights, Saar said, and one of them wound up filing a police report. At another voting location at a local church, a man persisted in posting signs after authorities ordered them removed.
“He was a little bit intimidating, and that was very strange,” Saar said. “We take that kind of thing very seriously.”
And there was the usual collection of calls about the particulars of electioneering; one caller wanted to know whether it was still legal to post signs from more than the required 100-foot distance outside a voting site, if the wording on the signs remains legible from that far away.
“Those are the kind of questions you get,” Saar said.
From tax rates and public improvements to basic services such as snow plowing, residents could see the day’s balloting have a direct impact on their lives. Local units of government with slots being filled Tuesday have control over an estimated $1 billion in public money, most of it collected from local taxpayers.
“There is no reason they should not vote,” Voots said. “With the economy the way it is right now, you think people would get out and vote.”
Among the decisions made in Naperville Tuesday were the filling of four seats on the City Council, four school board spots each in Naperville District 203 and Indian Prairie District 204, and several dozen area township offices. The question of whether to retain the existing at-large electoral system or switch to ward representation for the City Council also was on the ballot.
“You are electing local officials who are spending your tax dollars,” Voots said. “You can actually call and talk to these people.”
And she noted that Tuesday was not residents’ first chance to weigh in.
“People had an opportunity well ahead of election day to vote,” she said.
A total of 9,787 Will County residents took advantage of the early, mail-in, absentee and grace-period voting options, according to Voots’ website. The figure represents just less than 2.5 percent of all of those registered to vote. A report from Saar’s office shows 12,814 DuPage residents voted in advance of Tuesday, about 2.25 percent of all registered voters.
Steve Metsch of Sun-Times Media contributed to this report.