USA

On city’s first day of early voting for Nov. 3 election, Chicago voters flock to Loop Super site: ‘I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time’

For Lesley Jones, the 2½-hour wait was worth it.

The 52-year-old said he walked from his South Loop home early Thursday and stood outside the Loop Super Site starting at 6 a.m. to be one of the first to cast an early vote in the Nov. 3 election. Jones said he is a habitual early voter and feared a big turnout on day one, so he happily got up before dawn to avoid the crowds.

“I didn’t intend to be the first one,” Jones said. “I just intended to be in the first group. But being the first one, I mean, it kind of makes you a little happy.”

There still was a crowd — just behind Jones and around the corner of Clark and Lake streets. By 8:30 a.m., when the doors opened, the line snaked past North Dearborn Street and almost reached West Randolph Street. Voters, wrapped in coats as the first chill of fall crept in, brought foldable lawn chairs and books to pass the time.

Before the doors to the Loop Super Site opened, Lesley Jones, 52, was first in line to vote and waits with dozens of of other early voters at the Loop Super Site in Chicago on Oct. 1, 2020. The lines stretched out to the corner and nearly around the block.

Before the doors to the Loop Super Site opened, Lesley Jones, 52, was first in line to vote and waits with dozens of of other early voters at the Loop Super Site in Chicago on Oct. 1, 2020. The lines stretched out to the corner and nearly around the block. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Chicago officially kicked off the city’s first day of early voting Thursday at the Loop Super Site, 191 N. Clark St., now open seven days a week through Election Day. As a sign of pandemic times, the blue booths were more spaced out and poll workers had masks and hand sanitizer on hand. By about 2:50 p.m., 960 people had voted in-person, a Chicago Board of Elections spokeswoman said.

The scene at the Loop Super Site had an air of solemn determination as voters shared an urgency in casting their ballots this year. Many said it seems the country’s partisan rancor has turned people against one another for worse — as evidenced by Tuesday night’s acrimonious debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, one said — and that life had become especially harder for people of color.

They believed casting a ballot would make a difference in the nation’s trajectory, no matter how small, and felt some relief that in a year where a pandemic halted the world as they knew it, the right to vote was still there. Meanwhile, others had reservations about mail-in voting, despite election officials repeatedly assuring the integrity of those ballots.

Joe Henley was one of the first dozen early voters, having arrived around 7 a.m. after driving from his Bronzeville home. It was also the first day of his furlough from being a flight attendant, but the 37-year-old remained in good spirits as he waited to cast his vote.

“I’m ready to do it,” Henley said. “I’ve been thinking about this day for a long time, watching on the election calendar to make sure I know what day that early voting begins and what time it started. And then I wanted to be early.”

Henley said he feared that especially with a pandemic going on, waiting until Election Day would leave open the possibility that he would get sick and not be able to vote. He trusted the tried-and-true mail-in voting system, he said, but he thought he might as well vote in person since he has the ability.

To Henley, the 2020 election will determine the future direction of America.

“This year is very important for my vote to count, as it is every time,” Henley said. “But this year, more than ever, I wanted to make sure my vote counted. I wanted to be here the first day.”

Monique Nickson echoed the sentiment that she felt this election was one of the most consequential in her lifetime. She said it wouldn’t matter if it had been below freezing on Thursday — she would be there.

“I’m very excited about voting this time,” Nickson, 49, said while waiting in line about 9:50 a.m. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had this much energy. Normally, it’s just a matter-of-fact thing to do, I’m going to vote. But this time, no, I’m excited. I am.”

Early voters take a photo together after casting their vote at the Loop Super Site in Chicago on Oct. 1, 2020.

Early voters take a photo together after casting their vote at the Loop Super Site in Chicago on Oct. 1, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

Nickson, a human resources employee, drove to her Loop office from Chatham and was able to walk to the polling site because her company allowed workers two hours off to vote on Thursday. Nickson said she usually votes early, although she considered a mail-in ballot this year in light of the pandemic until hearing news of possible U.S. Postal Service delays under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy. Now, she feels most secure filling out her ballot in person.

Nickson never takes her right to vote for granted, and neither should any American citizen, she said.

“I think everyone should take it seriously,” Nickson said. “For an African American woman who my grandparents did not always have the right to vote, my grandfather … talked about that and how important it is to vote, and you should never take that lightly. Even if your candidate doesn’t win, you did your part.”

Mary Irvin had planned to vote by mail, but there was a hiccup. The 80-year-old was confused by instructions on her ballot that caused her to check both judge candidates running in a race, she said. So she and friends lined up around 8 a.m. after taking a bus and a walk from the South Loop.

“It’s not clear at all,” Irvin said. “The reason I’m not dropping my mail-in ballot in is because I messed up on something because it’s not clear directions. So that’s another reason why I’m here.”

Nonetheless, Irvin was cheerfully chatting with her friends and strangers as she waited. She was grateful the sun was out and skies were clear, she said.

Others were less than pleased to see dozens already lined up by the time they arrived. A woman waiting on Dearborn left the line less than 10 minutes before the doors opened, though more voters quickly added to the crowd minutes after.

A woman on the corner of Lake and Randolph exclaimed, “Oh s---! That way?” when she saw the throng. “Yes ma’am,” someone responded.

Two-time mayoral candidate and businessman Willie Wilson also strolled around the line before polls opened, bumping fists with people who recognized him. He is running a third-party challenge against U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, but not everyone seemed to be aware.

“What you running for?” a man at the front of the line inquired. “U.S. Senate,” he replied.

Hours of the Loop Super Site are 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. Election Day hours are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. All 50 wards will open their polls on Oct. 14, and the locations of the ward sites can be found at chicagoelections.gov/earlyvoting. Suburban Cook County voters can begin early voting in person later this month as well.

Trisha Rich exits the Loop Super Site after voting on Oct. 1, 2020.

Trisha Rich exits the Loop Super Site after voting on Oct. 1, 2020. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

The high interest on the first day of early voting comes as the state is anticipated to break a record of voting by mail this election, with the number of voters requesting mail-in ballots reaching almost 2 million as of Thursday morning, according to state election officials. People who want to vote by mail need to have their ballot envelope postmarked by Election Day.

If voters applied and were approved for a mail-in ballot but decide to vote in person instead, they must bring their mail-in ballot with them to an early voting location and surrender it to an election official. Voters who apply for a mail-in ballot but don’t receive one can vote in person but must sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury.

Chicagoans stopping by the Loop site Thursday joined nearly 70,000 people from the rest of the state who already early voted. About 3:30 p.m., a soft drizzle settled in, but voters were still revolving in and out of the building.

Diana Monaghan, 56, said she hardly minded the rain after this week’s Trump-Biden debate, which she called “a mess” — and the reason she wanted to be one of the first to vote in Chicago.

“That was the impetus for getting here sooner,” Monaghan said. “It feels great. ... There’s been a lot of turmoil in this country and a lot of division, and it’s time for that to end.”

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