Photo caption: FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER, Erika Nanton (left inset), a community organizer for his church, and Nilsa Lopezlena (right inset), a member, are fighting for voting booths to be placed inside colleges and universities for the April 4, 2023, runoff elections.
Father Michael Pfleger and supporters Sunday, March 12, called on the Board of Election Commissioners to place polling booths in city colleges and universities and to make voting directions more clear to increase voter accessibility for the April 4 runoff election.
Students, Pfleger said, “have the right to vote without barriers, which is why we are calling on the Board of Elections to put voting booths inside of colleges and universities. And if you say it’s not time, then bring some vans out there,” he told his congregation at the end of Sunday’s worship service.
It was Nilsa Lopezlena, a retired teacher and member of Saint Sabina, who on Sunday, March 5, first pointed out the lack of voting booths in city colleges and universities.
“We should have voting booths in our colleges and universities,” she said. “We should be about making voting more accessible and not force students to travel outside of their schools and dorms just to vote.”
In response to Lopezlena’s request, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough said, “She’s absolutely on point. We get permission from the schools. Most of our polling places are in schools, village halls, park districts and in libraries.
“The Illinois statute obligates schools to be polling places at no cost,” said Yarbrough. The statute is very clear.” She cited Illinois statute (10 ILCS) 5/11-4.1 (from Ch. 46, par. 11-4.1), 11.4.1 Section 11-4.1.”
Referring to Section (a), Yarbrough stated, “In appointing polling places under this Article, the County Board or the Board of Election Commissioners shall, insofar as they are convenient and available, use schools and other public buildings as polling places,” she stated.
Yarbrough cited Section (b), which states, “Upon request of the County Board or Board of Election Commissioners, the proper agency of government (including school districts and units of local government) shall make a public building under its control available for use as a polling place on an Election Day and for a reasonably necessary time period before and after Election Day, without charge.
“If the County Board or Board of Election Commissioners chooses a school to be a polling place, then the school district must make the school available for use as a polling place,” she stated.
“However, Yarbrough cited the same section that said, “For the day of the election, a school district is encouraged to (i) close the school or (ii) hold a teachers institute on that day with students not in attendance.”
Section (c) states, “A government agency which makes a public building under its control available for use as a polling place shall (i) ensure the portion of the building to be used as the polling place is accessible to voters with disabilities and elderly voters and (ii) allow the election authority to administer the election as authorized under this Code.”
Section (d) states, “If a qualified elector’s precinct polling place is a school and the elector will be unable to enter that polling place without violating Section 11-9.3 of the Criminal Code of 2012 because the elector is a child sex offender as defined in Section 11-9.3 of the Criminal Code of 2012, that elector may vote by a mail ballot in accordance with Article 19 of this Code or may vote early in accordance with Article 19A of this Code.”
Agreeing with Pfleger and Lopezlena was Nanton, the community organizer for Saint Sabina, who has gone back and forth with different officials from the Board of Election Commissioners on this issue. “It’s not right for students to have to go great distances just to vote when they can vote in booths right in their schools,” said Nanton.
She said the February 28 election was very disappointing. Thirty-five percent of the entire city out of all eligible voters voted, with the youth turnout at 2 percent. “We need to make voting more, not less, accessible,” Nanton said.
She also wants the Board to correct an alleged glitch if you request a mail-in ballot to be sent to your dorm, you have to enter their exact address, otherwise you won’t get a ballot. To Nanton, this practice is similar to the Jim Crow Era of the literacy test, “where if you don’t get it exactly right, you won’t get your ballot.” She said it smacks of disenfranchisement of the Black vote. “It’s not right.”
When contacted, Max Bever, the Director of the Board’s Public Information, said, “At this point, no new Early Voting locations can be added ahead of the April 4 Municipal Runoff Election. The Board does not have the staff or resources available to add any additional Early Voting sites at this late moment, and no additional colleges or universities reached out to the Board ahead of April 4 to participate in temporary college voting scheduled to take place from March 29 through March 31.”
Bever said the Early Voting sites located in colleges and universities will open on Monday, March 20, at 9:00 a.m. in Ward 34 at the UIC Student Center, 750 S. Halsted St.; Ward 35 at Northeastern Illinois University El Centro, 3390 N. Avondale Ave.; and Ward 46 at Truman College, 1145 W. Wilson Ave.
He explained there will be three university sites open for Early Voting from March 29 through March 31, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., only at Chicago State University, 9501 S. King Drive; Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave., and the University of Chicago, Reynolds Club, 5706 S. University Avenue in Chicago.
Bever said ahead of the March 2024 Primary Election, the Board urges colleges and universities interested in serving as Early Voting locations to contact the Board to discuss their possible participation.
A full list of Early Voting sites, dates and times for the city of Chicago for the April 4 Municipal Runoff Election can be found at:https://www.chicagoelections.gov/en/early-voting.htmlhttps://www.chicagoelections.gov/en/early-voting.html.