As we careen toward the conclusion of the 2018 midterm elections, I’d like to offer some advice to voters based on my observations monitoring the voting at two local polling places in Champaign County: Illini Union and Church of the Living God, and based on observations I made as a voter at Meadowbrook Church.

These suggestions are not based on how voting should occur. In an ideal polling place where everything operates perfectly, every name and address change has occurred in advance, and every voter completely understands the process of voting.

No, no, precious readers. This advice is based on spending hours observing extremely hardworking judges negotiating pressure, long lines, technological glitches, logistical oddities of the polling place layout, changes in voter names, residences, and statuses that can prolong the voting experience.

The better prepared you are as a voter for the polling place, the better the voting experience should be for you.

Voting at Meadowbrook Church (mostly white and more mature voters) after poll watching at the Illini Union (mostly UIUC student voters) and Church of The Living God (mostly African-American voters) gave me an opportunity to compare my experiences at three different Champaign County polling places, as an actual voter who took my mom to vote, and then as a poll watcher. 

My mom is a new voter in Champaign County and I registered her online. Based on the instruction on the Champaign County Clerk website, ID is required if you were a first time voter (though it is unclear as to whether or not this means that you are “first time voter in Champaign County” or if this was “your first time voting in your life”). Just to be safe, I packed four pieces of mail to prove my mom’s residency.

When we arrived at Meadowbrook and we gave the judge mom’s name, her name came up quite easily in the system. I asked what additional identification was needed. The judge responded “None”.  Yet, I was insistent: Sir, because this is her first time voting in Champaign County, don’t you need additional proof of residency? The judge looked at me sternly and repeated: “She is in the system" and he waved his hand signaling no. He asked if she would need any additional assistance. I said yes due to vision issues. He then made me complete an affidavit stating the reason she would need assistance. During that half-hour period for us both to vote, there were no lines, no malfunctioning equipment and no problems with their tabulator.

Conversely, the next day, I observed a woman trying to assist a man who was homeless at Church of the Living God.

In this location, the election judge never asked the woman if the man would need assistance to vote, nor was she offered an affidavit to document her assistance. Consequently, after spending a tortured half-hour trying to secure a ballot (the judge was not going to allow him to vote despite having a valid photo ID and letter from Cunningham Township granting use of their address for voting purposes), they left the polling place to regroup, returned and he was finally allowed to vote with the help of Danielle Chynoweth, Cunningham Township Supervisor. The man still ended up voting without assistance in the privacy booth, spoiling his ballot and had to request a second ballot.

At the Illini Union, despite nearly 1000 more total ballots cast there than at Meadowbrook, they were operating with more malfunctioning, compromised equipment. Additionally, there were consistent lines of 40-50 individuals waiting to vote at the Illini Union from noon to 1:20 p.m.

When mom finished voting, there was a Meadowbrook judge waiting at the tabulator to assist us, tell us how to insert our ballot, complete the process, and collect our “I Voted” sticker.   Assistance with inserting ballots into the tabulator occurred much less frequently (if at all) at the Illini Union or Church of The Living God.

Therefore, since location and socio-economic status seem to inform the quality of the voting experience in Champaign County, I offer the following advice to assist voters, particularly if you are first time voter, minority voter, student voter, or homeless voter.

As Billie Holiday opined: God bless the child that’s got his own. 

So in this context, God bless the voter that comes to the Champaign County polling place with their eyes wide open on what they might encounter.

Thus, my list of reminders include the following:

For ALL voters

  • Be prepared to make several attempts to enter your ballot into the tabulator before the machine accepts the ballot. As was the case in the Illini Union, the judges admitted that one of the two tabulators “worked better than the other” and thus required several more attempts to take the ballot than the other.
  • At heavily trafficked polling places, you should expect delays and technology malfunctions and give yourself plenty of time to vote in those locations.
  • If you are assisting a voter, you might be asked to complete an affidavit stating the impairment of the voter that you are assisting. If you accompany someone to the polls and know that they need assistance, be sure to ask the judge how the assistance will be provided and documented.

For student voters:

  • Know your voting status. If you have moved since you last voted or if you have moved since the last election, bring 2-3 pieces of information giving proof of your residency (i.e., proof of your current address with you on your physical person). You can pull up receipts or bills on your phone, but have this ready to go before you get in line to ease the process for yourself and others in line. 
  • When you finish filling in your ballot and have left the pen in the privacy booth, head for the tabulator, which is a 5 foot(ish) black container resembling a garbage tote or recycling tote into which you will enter your ballot. 
  • Remove your ballot from the privacy folder and slide the ballot into the very thin opening on the top of the tabulator.  It is here where the ballot will be received. After you insert the ballot, the tabulator itself will inform you as to whether you voted correctly or need to make some kind of correction to your ballot before submitting it.
  • You might see a poll monitor or reporter sitting near the tabulator, but their role is not to aid voters in completing the voting process. Though, I can’t tell you how many voters looked to me to give me their ballots, ask me about where ballots should go or asked me to direct them to the tabulator. If you have questions, go back to your election judge and ask them for assistance.
  • After you enter the ballot into the tabulator, place your folder or ballot cover on the nearby table, grab your “I voted” sticker and depart.

If you vote at Church of The Living God (312 East Bradley, Champaign)

After you complete your ballot, you might be asked to show the judge the initials at the top right hand corner of the ballot before inserting your ballot into the tabulator. I did not see this request made of voters at other polling places, but if you are voting at Church of The Living God, you should be prepared for this final step before entering your ballot in the tabulator.

If you are a homeless or displaced voter

If you are a homeless voter, you must also have on your person documents that affirm some kind of residency status.

Contact Cunningham Township Supervisor Danielle Chynoweth, who spent Saturday lobbying for at least three homeless voters. She can provide an assessment of your residency status. She then may be able to offer you a Cunningham Township Office mailing address from which to vote.

Also, if you seek Chynoweth’s assistance, please also ask her for a sample ballot to review so you can be clear on the voting process and candidates on the 2018 midterm ballot.

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In closing, I hope these tips offer you some sense of the pitfalls to avoid or be prepared for when you go to vote in Champaign County, particularly if you fall into one of the categories of most vulnerable voters: student voters, minority voters, first time voters, or homeless voters. 

As each polling place offers distinct experiences, I wish you good fortune and success at the polls!

Photo by Nicole Anderson-Cobb