UPDATED 5:30 p.m. | Strong turnout was reported around McLean County on Tuesday, including a long line at Illinois State University that prompted allegations of voter suppression from College Democrats.
A line snaked through the main floor of ISU's Bone Student Center all afternoon. Students who just finished casting their ballot told GLT they waited between 45 minutes and 2 hours to vote. Those voters either had to register to vote or change their address. The line was shorter for those who were already registered locally.
ISU student Nick Vogel of Naperville tried to entertain those in line by leading a rendition of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” He had just walked into the Bone to get in line himself.
“It’s kinda long,” Vogel said. “But I’m gonna wait here and do it. It’s really important that we do it. The 18- to 29-year-olds are really important in terms of changing the future.”
Marcus Shaw from Highland Park told GLT he waited at least two hours in line. He had to change his voter address to his ISU dorm.
Shaw said he was surprised at the long line, but he never thought about leaving.
“It’s important to vote. Everybody should vote. It’s worth the wait,” Shaw said.
Republican McLean County Clerk Kathy Michael’s office oversees elections in Normal and rural parts of McLean County. The Bloomington Election Commission handles it within city limits.
Democrats, including Michael’s Democratic challenger Nikita Richards, have criticized Michael’s handling of the ISU voting site in the past. Students brought their complaints to the McLean County Board in 2016 after encountering long lines during the primary election. Michael denied allegations of voter suppression and said “quite honestly we felt we were prepared for it.”
Around 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Michael said her office was encouraging ISU students to travel to the Government Center in downtown Bloomington. Lines were also reported there, according to a tweet from McLean County Board candidate Shayna Watchinski. County Clerk Director of Elections Denise Cesario told GLT around 3:40 p.m. that they were sending additional equipment and two election judges to ISU.
— Shayna (@Shayna4McLean8) November 6, 2018
“We’re seeing a big increase in the last hour. It was real quiet at ISU all morning. And now there’s a big long line. And we’re excited to see those students get out and vote. And they’re gonna be in line again because of the construction (at the Bone Student Center) and the smaller room we’re in. We’re probably looking at a two-hour wait line at ISU,” Michael said.
Brent Paterson, an assistant to ISU President Larry Dietz, contacted the county clerk's office Tuesday to see if anything could be done to speed up voting at the Bone Student Center, an ISU spokesperson said.
The College Democrats at Illinois State University said on Facebook that the long line was “voter suppression.”
“Students should not have to wait an hour to cast a vote,” the group posted.
McLean County Board member Laurie Wollrab, a Democrat who’s unopposed in Tuesday’s election, said she was disappointed in the long line.
“There are only 10 actual voting machines set up, and so there’s a wait even once you get registered to actually cast your ballot,” Wollrab said. “I think the wait should be a great deal shorter because we’ve known about this congestion at this location for many years. I thought we’ve had it addressed several times over, but obviously it’s still not addressed.”
Normal and McLean County voter turnout (excluding Bloomington) is higher than the 2014 midterm election, according to Michael. Around 2 p.m. she said turnout this year was just over 50 percent, but she expected that to rise as voting picked up Tuesday afternoon.
“Turnout is steady to getting a little bit higher than usual for a gubernatorial race,” she said. “I guesstimated a long time ago it would be 62 percent or so. And I think we’ll see that. But we will see the 73 percent (more typical during a presidential election year)? I don’t think so. But it’ll certainly be higher than a normal gubernatorial race.”
Lines are longest at ISU because of voter registration delays, Michael said. She said most other polling places in the county have less than 15-minute wait times.
Meanwhile, Bloomington Election Commission Executive Director said his polling places were experiencing typical lines, but they were moving quickly and he hadn’t received any complaints about wait times.
As of 4 p.m., Bloomington turnout was up to 43.3 percent. Total Bloomington turnout was 48.8 percent in 2014 during the last midterm and gubernatorial election.
Shannon said 2018 saw more early voters and vote-by-mail ballots than in years past. But he said Election Day turnout is about the same and not expected to change significantly.
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