Last week, 188,983 people voted for Cook County Clerk David Orr. However, if that election was held again today, it’s doubtful Orr would receive anywhere near that number of votes after the trying experiences many voters in Forest Park, River Forest, Oak Park, and dozens of other county municipalities had casting their vote.
According to local officials working that election, inadequately trained election judges and a lack of technical assistance combined with the debut of two new voting technologies that frequently malfunctioned or didn’t function at all caused endless headaches for election judges and voters.
“People are getting discouraged because they can’t vote,” said Forest Park resident Brian Krutsch after attempting to vote at a polling station set up in the Park District of Forest Park’s Building #4 at Hannah Ave. and Sansone Drive. Krutsch also complained that when he sought answers from election judges concerning the problems, he was met largely with indifference, and said he did not receive a call back when he attempted to file a complaint with Orr’s office.
Voters reported problems with one of the two touch screen voting machines at the facility as well as a machine that was supposed to accept paper ballots. Forest Park resident Marcy Wozniak said that when she went to vote, ballots were being accepted by hand and placed in boxes due to the failing machines.
“I’m uncomfortable about that because people can look at my ballot and see who I’m voting for,” she said.
Park District Executive Director David Novak said that the machines had been experiencing problems when he arrived at work early on election day morning, but reported that the mechanical problems seemed to have been resolved by about 12:30 p.m.
Still, Forest Park’s problems were limited compared to some area municipalities.
“I’ve never seen as many problems as this last election,” said River Forest Township Clerk Elizabeth Martin last Wednesday.
“We got out an hour later than we’ve ever gotten out before,” said Oak Park resident and veteran election judge Joel Sheffel.
Voters were supposedly able to choose between optical scanners and touch screen machine to cast their vote, a transition that county officials had predicted in February would go smoothly. In the immediate aftermath of the election, those officials claimed that the problems were largely due to “human error.”
But Martin scoffed at those comments.
“From my observations, it was the equipment, not people,” she said Thursday.
Martin agreed that having to physically sort ballots was very awkward and very time consuming. But what most troubled her, she said, was watching ballots being handled after they had been cast.
“(Election judges) had to open up the optical scanners and sort (the ballots) among precincts,” Martin said. “Then go through them and look for write in votes.”
“I think once a ballot is in the box, it should stay there.”
In general there was agreement that the judges needed to be better trained on the technology, and that more of them were needed.
“There’s got to be a new training, because none of this equipment worked,” said Sheffel. “They had better watch out,” he cautioned. “Because people are going to start saying ‘for $150, why am I putting up with this?'”