Polls are now open in Chicago — and a record number of early votes have already been cast – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

It’s Election Day and Chicago voters are going to the polls to cast ballots in the hotly contested mayoral race and to vote for aldermen in all 50 wards.

Incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot is being challenged by eight candidates as she seeks reelection to a second term.

Chicago voters for the first time in city history will be able to vote for representatives on civilian police oversight councils.

Many races — including likely the mayor’s race — won’t be decided until runoffs on April 4. Candidates won’t win office today unless their vote totals exceed 50%.

Weather forecasters predicts a partly cloudy day Tuesday with a high of 45 degrees. The polls will be open until 7 p.m.

Chicago Board of Elections Chairwoman Marisel Hernandez started off Election Day at 6 a.m. to share voter turnout updates and vote-by-mail totals at the Chicago early voting supersite located at 191 N. Clark St.

As of Monday night, 244,580 ballots had been cast at early voting sites or received by mail by the Chicago Board of Elections, the highest amount ever for early voting in a municipal election. So far, that is about 15% of the city’s 1,581,564 registered voters. By age groups, most votes — around 22% — have been placed by people 65-74. There are still more than 100,000 mail-in ballots that have yet to be returned to the Board.

“We expect a good turnout today, as we know that many voters have been listening to the candidates, understanding their positions and now it’s time to vote,” Hernandez said at the morning news conference.

Emmanuel Camargo, a 50-year-old Fulton Market resident who works in IT, came to the early voting supersite in the Loop to drop off his mail-in ballot to vote for Lightfoot. He said his support for Lightfoot never wavered, unlike his wife, who is not voting for Lightfoot today.

”We need leadership,” Camargo said. “I think her opponents are criticizing her failures, and they are failures of her administration, but it was (an) unprecedented (period of time).”

Marie Drevets, 22, an engineer who lives in Logan Square, also dropped off her mail-in ballot at the early voting supersite, but, unlike Camargo, she voted for her U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García, whom she said she has come to trust.

”I wasn’t satisfied with Mayor Lightfoot,” Drevets said. “I’m not satisfied with her stands on public safety, and I haven’t really seen a lot of efforts to improve that.”

Early voting turnout suggested interest in the race is relatively high, exceeding both the 2019 and 2015 mayoral races. As of Monday morning, early vote turnout was the highest in wards known for dense populations of city workers: the 19th Ward on the Far Southwest Side, the 41st and 38th on the Far Northwest Side, the 13th on the Southwest Side, and the 11th, centered around Bridgeport and Chinatown.

It remains to be seen if the record-breaking early voting and voting by mail turnout will lower the number of voters who show up to the polls on Election Day, but historical voting patterns suggest that it might still be a busy day, said Max Bever, spokesperson for the Chicago Board of Elections.

Bever said that both the June 2022 and November 2022 elections saw about 25% of voters who early voted, about 25% of voters who voted by mail and about 50% of voters who voted on Election Day, with this year’s early voting numbers suggesting the potential for a similar breakdown. With this year being a municipal election, even more voters could be inclined to show up on Election Day, as voters generally make up their minds much later in the municipal election process, according to Bever.

As in last year’s elections, election watchers see potential for issues stemming from redistricting and fewer polling places, which caused confusion among voters when some showed up at the wrong polling locations.

While there have not been significant changes in polling locations since last year, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the organization that runs the nonpartisan hotline 886-OUR-VOTE for voting issues on Election Day, will be looking out for calls from voters who are confused about where to vote.

Communities of color, which have historically faced steeper barriers in voting, are more likely to be impacted by the change in polling locations, said Cliff Helm, an attorney with Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.

Another group likely to face issues at the polls are those who are disabled. Just over a third of polling places are fully compliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act’s standards, according to a recent analysis by the Tribune.

While last year’s two-paged ballot aroused issues in various precincts, as election officials neglected to give every voter both pages of the ballot, this year’s ballot is one, single-sided page. Voters don’t have to worry about Sharpies being present at this year’s election either, as the Election Board opted for Papermate felt-tipped pens after concerns last year with the Sharpies, Bever said.

Bever told the Tribune Tuesday morning that there likely won’t be any staffing shortages at the polls today, with 6,450 staff needed and a current total at 6,600 to account for cancellations and no-shows.

Voters can locate their polling place on the Chicago Board of Elections website or by calling the Board at 312-269-7900.

In addition to voters’ assigned polling locations, individuals can vote at any of the 51 early voting locations that remain open until 7 p.m. on Feb. 28.

Primary elections are also being in held Tuesday in a smattering of suburbs, including Aurora, Harvey, Dolton and Oswego.

Gregory Pratt, Alice Yin, A.D. Quig, Hank Sanders, Kinsey Crowley, Kori Rumore and Darcel Rockett contributed to this report.

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