Quick Hit Matthew Blake Monday November 5th, 2012, 2:30pm

New Polling Places Could Mean Confusion For Chicago Voters

The Chicago City Council’s remap of its 50 wards this year means new polling places for Chicago residents looking to cast their ballots tomorrow.

“It is going to be an issue for some of our voters who don’t check their polling places,” acknowledged Langdon Neal, chairman for the Chicago Board of Election at a press conference this morning. “If you do not follow the instructions and you don’t check your polling place, you cannot vote.”

Neal said that Chicago voters uncertain about where to vote tomorrow can call the Chicago Board of Elections at 312-269-7870 and “we can tell you where to go.”

Windy City voters may also text message their street address to 312-361-8846 to get their polling place. For example, the common address number then street format of 1234 W. 56th St. would produce a reply text with a polling place.

Neal gave these nitty-gritty logistics at a press conference intended to promote the success of early voting in Chicago and suburban Cook County. Neal and Cook County Clerk Orr say the percentage of registered voters who participated in early balloting this year set a new record.

According to numbers provided by the county clerk’s office and city board of elections, 543,615 Cook County registered voters cast some kind of pre-election ballot with 471,803 doing early voting.

The total pre-election ballot figure, which includes grace period and mail voting in addition to early voting, is 19.7 percent of the county’s 2,763,534 registered voters.

By comparison 19 percent, or 557,161 of 2,933,502 registered voters, participated in pre-election day voting in 2008.

As to why the total number of registered voters is down, Orr said that this was simply a matter of Chicago’s population decline. Indeed, according to U.S. Census Figures, Chicago lost 144,200 people between July 2008 and July 2011, which is the most recent publicly-available census population estimate.

All of Cook County, though, lost just 39,600 residents in this three-year period.

Both Orr and Neal acknowledged that turnout this election cycle may not be as high as 2008, when 73.5 percent of registered suburban voters participated and 73.9 percent of Chicagoans cast their ballot.

“I don’t think that it’s really fair to compare turnout to 2008 because 2008 was a very, very unusual election for all the reasons you all realize,” Neal said, apparently referring to the enthusiasm generated by Chicagoan Barack Obama’s initial bid for the presidency.

Cook County voter turnout reached its peak in 1992, which featured the three-person presidential race between Democratic Bill Clinton – who won Illinois and the overall election, Republican President George H. W. Bush and Independent H. Ross Perot. About 75.9 percent of registered suburban Cook County voters and 74.6 percent of registered city voters cast their ballot in that election.

Orr alluded to the national controversy regarding conservative organizations on the lookout for “voter fraud”,  and progressive groups afraid that such efforts might lead to voter suppression, especially of young people and minorities.

“There’s a lot of 'defend the vote' types out there,” the county clerk said. “There have been some tricks under the guise of stopping fraud.”

Orr and Neal promised that hundreds of “investigators” and election attorneys will be fanned out around the county tomorrow. Neither official said there has been a clear instance of such voter suppression happening thus far in Cook County.

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