Local Polling Places See Little Traffic

None of the four Downers Grove races turned out more than 20 percent of registered voters.

It was about 2 p.m. Tuesday when the six election judges stationed at Downers Grove Village Hill began discussing the fashions of the 1970s. Talk eventually turned to the disappearance of stirrup-style socks in baseball and the tendency of today’s players to wear full-length pants.

After all, the judges had to do something to pass time during a 14-hour election day marked by an underwhelming turnout.

According to the DuPage County Election Commission's summary report, only 6,430 of an eligible 33,314 Downers Grove residents voted in the mayoral and Village Council races. That’s a 19.3 percent turnout rate.

For the District 99 race, the rate was even lower—14.6 percent, or 10,616 of a possible 72,650 registered voters. Fewer than 19 percent turned out for the District 58 race and 19.2 percent participated in the Park District Board election.

“We knew it was going to be kind of low,” Village Hall election judge Tara Homner said of the turnout. “At one point, we had four voters [at once] and we were going to take a picture of them.”

Village Hall voter Maribeth Reilly, brought her young daughter, Jacqueline, along to vote Tuesday. The Downers Grove mom said she votes in every election out of civic duty.

“You can’t change everything,” Reilly said, “but if you don’t come out and cast your vote, you really can’t sit on the sidelines and complain.”

Village Hall wasn’t where Bernard and Jane Murphy were scheduled to vote, but as they walked toward their car on the way to the correct site, Bernard said it’s important to support the local government.

“We try to vote all the time to support the local issues,” Bernard said. “This one is mainly Village Council.”

Indeed, the Village Council election was the hot topic for the small group of voters Patch interviewed.

Robert Hayes, an 83-year-old resident who has lived in Downers Grove since 1955, said senior-citizen issues, such as the village’s Meals on Wheels budget cut and property taxes, were his top priority in voting Tuesday. He said the late endorsements and contention on the council can be a good thing.

“We have to have some additional opinions on there,” Hayes said. “I think there has to be a compromise, but the difference of opinion is certainly desirable.”

Jane Murphy agreed.

“I think discussion is always good,” she said. “It gets people thinking a little bit, at least.”

Fiscal issues were on the mind of voter Donald Wade as he left the polling station at the Downers Grove Recreation Center. He said he was spurred on by Mayor Ron Sandack’s last-minute email blast that endorsed the three winning candidates.

“Budgets are tight and somebody always thinks they can do better,” the 59-year-old accountant said. “It’s a tough time to be in public service... A lot of people think they can do things that they really can’t do.”

But opinions like those of Wade, Hayes, Reilly, and the Murphys were, for the most part, absent Tuesday. At about 4 p.m., one of the two Rec Center polling places had seen only 90 of a possible 1,300 voters. The other had 94.

“It’s usually pretty bad,” election judge Peg Hershberger said, “but 10 percent is horrible for a free country, isn’t it?”

Hershberger’s colleague, Norman Hunt, said it’s no wonder governing bodies are struggling.

“You can see how bad things would happen if that’s all that’s participating.”

Patricia April 06, 2011 at 08:14 PM
This is exactly the type of election where the polling places should be condensed. I voted at Herrick, but could have just as easily voted at Longfellow School or the library. It would be in the best interest of the students who were in school yesterday to not have Herrick as a voting location. The school staff and the election volunteers all are in agreement that it is not appropriate to use the school as a voting site when the children are in session.
Kelly H April 06, 2011 at 08:38 PM
While I understand the possible complications of using the building for two different purposes on the same day, I think it can actually work out very well. When I was young, my elementary school was used as a polling site and I think it was a wonderful lesson for me and my classmates; it was an opportunity to see our democracy in action. I remember one teacher in particular explaining what was going on and thinking "someday I'll be able to do that, too." It might present some logistical challenges for teachers, but what a great lesson it can teach.
Patricia April 06, 2011 at 09:43 PM
Unfortunately it is no longer safe to have the school buildings open to anyone to come walking in. The students for many years now have done a drill (similar to a fire drill) called Shelter in Place. This drill is to teach the children what to do in case a shooter is going through the school firing a weapon. I will never forget the first time my then 3rd grader told me how you have to crouch down with your back against the wall and stay away from the doors or windows so the bad guy can't see you. That was a sad, sad day when their little innocence was stolen away by the world. Now comes election day and anybody and teir brother can walk right into the building while the children are in school. Not right, not safe. Move polling sites out of schools once and for all, you can always take your child with you when you vote!
Kelly H April 07, 2011 at 02:02 AM
I can understand your concern, but I just don't agree. I am a teacher and I know how much effort our schools put into safety. I "lock down" my classroom for shelter in place drills, and there is certainly the remote possibility that we could actually need to use the protocol in a real emergency situation. I take that seriously, and trust that my administration, in an emergency, will give me as much leadership as they can to deal with the issue. But the reality is that events involving the community sometimes take place within the schools during school hours, and I like it that way. I enjoy the fact that my students and the rest of the community are able to view the school as a place to socialize, meet new people, and learn. The staff at each building, I would hope, does its best to ensure that visitors use/have access to only designated areas of the school for the event taking place. I DO agree with you, however, when you say you can ALWAYS take your child to vote. It's just unfortunate how few residents of DG actually voted in this election! Not much of a learning experience for our next generation in that.
Patricia April 07, 2011 at 04:34 PM
I am curious what other events that involve the community take place within the schools during school hours? (that are not programs put on by the school, such as Grandparents Day or Pioneer Day...) I am thinking over all our years in elementary school and now middle school and even when my daughter was in high school, and I can't think of any except elections.
Kelly H April 07, 2011 at 06:28 PM
At the high school level, there are several events put on by the school which involve a fair number of community guests - not just something on a smaller scale like hosting grandparents for Grandparents' Day, but large assemblies like the Veterans' Day one at DGN, and even the homecoming assembly, to a smaller extent. I can't speak to how those many guests are handled on such busy days, but I think the community involvement is AMAZING. Aside from those examples during the school day, the graduation ceremony is also open to all. There are also times when high schools (and even elementary/middle schools) host events that students from other schools attend. But really, I guess my thoughts about the elections are that - to my knowledge - major problems have never really arisen from inviting voters into schools. School violence, unfortunately, is almost always committed by students attending the school (or at least look like they are attending the school, as was the case at NIU). The REAL security comes from parents, teachers, and administration being vigilant about how students treat one another.
Patricia April 07, 2011 at 07:34 PM
It would be easier to get in to see the Pope than to get into the High School Graduations. It is absolutley not open to all. You are lucky if you can even get tickets for grandparents to attend that event. Having had a child graduate from DGN, the examples you site are not community events and they are not open for anyone to just walk in. Assemblies are also not open for the community to attend. Voting taking place in the school, while school is in session allows anyone to walk into the school building. No one can be sure that whoever enters the building exits when they are done voting, if they even vote. The staff at the schools do not like it and even the staff handling the recent voting don't like it. They would prefer it was not held in the school building for the safety of everyone.
Kelly H April 07, 2011 at 08:51 PM
Actually, seating at the outdoor high school graduation ceremonies is unlimited; you do not need a ticket. If the ceremony must be moved indoors, then there is a limit of 10 (?) guests per student in the gym. Last year the ceremony was moved inside at the last minute and the staff tried to accommodate all visitors by broadcasting the ceremony live in the auditorium for those who didn't have tickets. But keep in mind - in the case of an indoor ceremony, the students are distributing their 10 tickets. There is no guarantee of who will be walking in those doors for the event. And you're right - not just any Joe Schmo can walk in for the assemblies. I did NOT call them community events, but there a lot of people who aren't students in the school at the same time. That's all I'm saying. I see value in the community using the schools when they're needed (arguably they aren't needed for consolidated elections - like this last one - due to the low turnout) and you would rather the community didn't. It's okay that we don't agree.
Elaine Johnson April 07, 2011 at 10:38 PM
My son graduated last year--huge disappointment when the ceremony was moved inside to the steamy gym. His class was allowed four tickets per student. Maybe it depends on the size of the graduating class? The place was packed!
Kelly H April 07, 2011 at 11:33 PM
Yes, last year that heat was terrible! I was nine months pregnant too, and I felt like passing out from that sauna. I can't imagine what it was like up in the bleachers. Yuck.
Patricia April 08, 2011 at 12:57 AM
My daughter's graduation class recieved 4 tickets per person also and was moved indoors last minute also.
Elaine Johnson April 08, 2011 at 01:09 AM
We were right up there in the bleachers and, yes, it was uncomfortable. But probably not as uncomfortable as being in nine months pregnant! Looks like the graduation ceremonies will be in the gym this year, too. The district plans to start revamping the athletic fields--including the installation of synthetic turf on Carstens Field beginning this spring.


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