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Only Oswego

Election Day Polls Open Late, But Oswego Voters Report Being Turned Away

Mar 16, 2016 03:02PM ● By Shannon Antinori

Several Kendall County voters reported being turned away from polls Tuesday night, despite a court order to keep them open an extra hour due to a shortage of Democratic ballots.

Kendall County Clerk Debbie Gillette said high voter turnout led to several polling stations running out of Democratic ballots sometime in the afternoon.

“(Turnout) was double what we expected,” she said, adding that the more than 45 percent overall turnout was much higher than the last several elections.

Kendall County Democrats Central Committee Chairman Chuck Sutcliff said he started hearing of polling places running out of ballots at around 2 p.m. After word got out about the shortage, runners were sent to each of the county’s 51 polling stations with additional ballots, according to Gillette.

“I talked to the clerk’s office, and they assured me that they were sending runners out with extra ballots and that no one was being turned away,” Sutcliff said.

Even so, Sutcliff said he received reports that some Democratic voters were told their polling stations were out of ballots, and to come back later. Sutcliff said that may have discouraged some voters from returning to vote. 

“It’s a manner of disenfranchisement,” he said.

According to Sutcliff, representatives from the Bernie Sanders campaign appealed to keep the polls open later, but were initially turned down. At 7:06 p.m., Gillette said she received a call that Kendall County had been court-ordered to keep the polls open until 8 p.m. An email with the same message came in at 7:11 p.m., according to the clerk.

Gillette said calls immediately went out to each polling station, and poll workers were also notified via a message on their laptops. But some voters who arrived after 7 p.m. said they were still turned away.

Oswego resident Taryn, who asked that her last name not be used, said she and her husband arrived at their polling station just after 7 p.m. after her BNSF train home was delayed by a pedestrian vs. train collision.

“I tried to open the door, and the door was locked,” Taryn said, adding that she checked the time and saw that it was 7:02 p.m. She said an election worker came to the door and told her the polls were closed.

Taryn, who votes at Oswego East High School, said she and her husband went home without voting. Later, she checked her subdivision’s Facebook page and discovered that voting had been extended in Kendall County, but by that time it was past the 8 p.m. cutoff.

“Why (were they) turning people away at 7:02?” she asked, saying that by that time, election workers must have known about the ballot shortage and potential for an order to keep the polls open. “I don’t mind following the rules, but … if you know there are any issues, there’s a possibility a judge may issue an extension.”

Another Oswego resident, John Mora, said he and his wife were also turned away before 8 p.m. After his wife had car trouble, he said he picked her up from her job in Naperville and they headed to their polling place at Oswego Village Hall.

“We arrived, we walked in, and the gentleman said, ‘The polls are closed, sorry,’” Mora said. 

When he got in his car, the clock read 7:17 p.m. Like Taryn, Mora said it wasn’t until he got home that he saw a Facebook post on Only Oswego that voting had been extended by an hour.

‘Thrown for a loop’ by high turnout

“We spend so much time preparing so everything runs smoothly, then things like this happen and you’re thrown for a loop,” Gillette said of this year’s voter turnout.

Turnout in Kendall County has been dismal for the last few elections, with just 11.57 percent of registered voters coming out for the April 2015 consolidated election and 19.09 percent during the March 2014 primary.

During the last presidential primary election in 2012, turnout was 21.97 percent in Kendall County, with 11,262 Republican ballots cast and just 2,450 Democratic ballots cast. This time around, 16,936 Republican ballots were cast, and 12,726 Democratic ballots.

Sutcliff said in addition to more people coming out to vote, some typically Republican voters may have switched sides for the primary.

“There were a lot of crossovers to vote for Bernie over Hillary by Republicans because, A, they didn’t care for their candidates, and B, (they wanted) anybody but Hillary,” Sutcliff said. “I did hear that that was happening, and it would be difficult to anticipate anything like that,” he said, but added, “I do think there was some lack of preparation.”

Gillette said the high turnout is encouraging, despite the ballot shortages.

“I love to see people come out to vote,” Gillette said.

Taryn said she won’t be taking chances the next time she heads out to the polls.

“I’ve sworn to become an early voter from here on out,” she said.