Evanston same-day registration results in long lines


Sean Su/Daily Senior Staffer

A Northwestern student casts his ballot at the Civic Center on Tuesday. Through NU services like the “Voter Van,” students were able to more easily get to polling places at Parkes Hall, Patten Gym and the Civic Center to vote.

Paige Leskin and Hal Jin

The state’s first year of Election Day registration attracted members of the Evanston and Northwestern community, with the Civic Center drawing the highest number of same-day registrants of anywhere in suburban Cook County.

The registration process at the Civic Center presented some difficulties, with some voters standing in long lines for more than two hours to register and cast their ballots. The center served as the only Evanston location and one of 18 sites across suburban Cook County where people could register on Election Day. The service was part of the state’s pilot program this year.

“I got there around 5:30 and I left around 8,” SESP sophomore Margaret Parker said. “This is actually the first time I’ve ever voted, and I was very excited about it.”

From the time the polls opened at 6 a.m. to their close at 7 p.m., 430 people participated in Election Day registration at the Civic Center, according to the Cook County Clerk’s Office. More than 3,600 people in all of suburban Cook County registered to vote on Tuesday.

Gov. Pat Quinn, who was defeated Tuesday by Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, signed into state law in July a pilot program for Election Day registration, which has been implemented in ten states and Washington, D.C.

NU services like the “Voter Van,” a free shuttle driven by NU Votes students, enabled students like Parker to vote. Students only had to bring their WildCARDs and be able to sign into CAESAR to register at the Civic Center, she said.

“A lot of people just brought homework and just did homework while waiting,” Parker said. “I hope that more students went. (The wait) wasn’t that much of an inconvenience, and I don’t think that it was a good enough reason to not vote.”

Cook County Clerk David Orr attributed the large showing of same-day registrants in Evanston to the NU community, estimating that students made up about 80 percent of the total voters Tuesday.

Despite the long lines, the sheer number showed the interest and need for the implementation of Election Day registration in the state, instead of just a pilot program, Orr said. With a full program, voters would be able to register in their home precincts, and the long lines at the Civic Center would be reduced, he said.

Orr himself showed up to the Civic Center and, with other staff, created innovative solutions to mitigate the long wait. He provided people with pizza and chairs to sit in while they waited in line, in addition to meeting with poll workers and voters to talk about the registration process, Jim Scalzitti, deputy communication director for the Cook County Clerk’s Office, said in an email to The Daily.

“The Cook County Clerk was deputizing people to work the polls at $20 an hour,” said SESP freshman Kevin Corkran, who spent the night volunteering at the Civic Center. “I think we were understaffed.”

Orr acknowledged that the Civic Center did not have enough people and equipment to register the voters. The staff who register voters also needs greater education about Election Day registration to maximize the amount of people who cast ballots and prevent errors in the process, Orr said.

Chicago had more problems, with only five sites and a lack of staff offering same-day registration throughout the entire city.

The large crowd that greeted people as they came into the Civic Center discouraged some voters from staying and going through with the process, Orr said.

“I hope the legislatures will pass a law to make Election Day registration permanent at all sites,” Orr said. “The most important thing is that the turnout we saw in Evanston proved that people wanted to register and vote. It proves the need. I think there’s ways to make it work more smoothly.”

Residents and NU students who had registered to vote before Tuesday did not face the long wait those at the Civic Center encountered. These students, who could go to the on-campus voting locations at Parkes Hall and Patten Gym, waited less than five minutes to cast their ballots.

Tuesday’s election resulted in a 54 percent voter turnout in Evanston, with 23,064 ballots casted as of 1 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the Cook County Clerk’s Office. This number is slightly lower than the number of voters at the midterm elections in 2010, when 26,014 ballots were cast. 

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @apricityhal

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @paigeleskin