November 9, 2022: As people throughout Illinois and Indiana showed up at their polling places yesterday to cast their votes in the 2022 Midterm Elections, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee’s non-partisan Election Protection volunteers answered hundreds of calls to the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline and served as poll watchers and voter advocates, helping voters obtain accurate information and access the ballot box.
“Our goal and our role is to be there to make sure that voters are able to vote freely,” said Cliff Helm, Voting Rights Program Counsel, in a recent WBEZ interview.
Voters in Illinois and Indiana wanted to make their voices heard in this important election and unfortunately faced a variety of obstacles in navigating the election system. Our pro bono volunteers provided encouragement and answers, collaborating with voters and election authorities to resolve as many problems as possible.
Election Protection volunteers helped improve voter access in many instances, with just a few examples below:
We successfully advocated to the Chicago Board of Elections to reiterate to all election judges the need to supply voters with full ballots, after numerous voters contacted us about incomplete ballots in English and other languages.
We advocated for voters facing graphic and intimidating protest signs at a polling place entrance and supported the de-escalation efforts of Count US Indiana, a non-partisan organization that encourages a larger and more diverse turnout across the state.
Paving the way for expanded jail voter access across the country, we protected the rights of voters in pretrial detention in Cook County Jail and Will County Detention Facility, in partnership with Chicago Votes and Speak Up and Vote.
With only a few minutes left to vote before polling places closed on Tuesday, one voter in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago called the hotline with concerns about a provisional ballot. The election judge was unsure of how to proceed with this voter’s situation and incorrectly had not given the voter a regular ballot. Our hotline volunteer stayed on the phone with the voter, coordinating with the Chicago Board of Elections and the election judge, and in the end, the voter was able to vote on a regular ballot just before the polling place closed.
Despite the efforts of civil rights advocates, voters of color continue to face unjust barriers:
Multiple voters faced racial tensions in Illinois suburban communities at the end of the voting day and were blocked from voting by a slammed door or a threat of arrest, even though they were in line at their polling place in time.
Some Illinois voters continue to face improper requests for ID, with many having to go through additional unnecessary steps in order to vote and some being turned away entirely.
Many voters with disabilities faced undue barriers to participation, such as advertised accessibility options that were non-functional.
Election Protection volunteers continued in their established roles and also jumped into new, creative opportunities to advance racial equity. “Chicago Lawyers’ Committee volunteer attorneys were a tremendous help in St. Joseph County, Indiana, enabling us to substantially increase our voting location coverage as we launched our first Election Protection initiative,” said Geri Pawelski, who coordinated a local Election Protection initiative of Common Cause Indiana.
In the face of persistent threats to our democracy, and with notable municipal elections coming up soon, the work remains to ensure voter access heading into future elections.