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Some voters face minor problems, delays, election officials report 

David Kidwell, Rick Pearson and Deanese Williams-Harris   ChicagoTribune 05 February 2008

Illinois voters are getting their chance to be relevant in the presidential primaries for the first time in decades on Super Tuesday, casting ballots six weeks earlier than usual.

When polls opened at 6 a.m., the weather was relatively mild and the forecast was for a large turnout driven by the unique Democratic presidential contest featuring Barack Obama, a first-term U.S. senator from Chicago, and Park Ridge native Hillary Clinton, a two-term New York senator.

Chicago and Cook County election officials were fielding what appeared to be typical Election Day complaints about equipment problems and other technical and human difficulties.

There was a delay in voting of between one and two hours at one 35th Ward polling place on the Northwest Side when the equipment was delivered to the wrong location. Voters left, and officials were contemplating keeping that location open later.

At another location on the city's North Side, there was a short delay opening a polling place at a bank because the security guard was found unconscious inside. Officials said he was OK, there were no signs of foul play, and the polling place opened a short time later.

Cook County election officials reported that courts ordered that two polling places be kept open late after delays in opening. In one of those cases, mislabeled doors at an Oak Park polling place resulted in voters leaving after they were unable to get in. At Truman College on Chicago's North Side, none of the three touch-screen voting machines was working as voters came in.

"The very first voter was so angry, she was moved to tears," said 42nd Precinct Election Judge Paula Greer. "It took her 40 minutes to vote, which was frustrating for her."

Repairs were made by 8:45 a.m.

At the United Church of Rogers Park, 1545 W. Morse Ave., things were running smoothly by 9 a.m. after a few hiccups because some election judges failed to show.

Nonetheless, Chicago election officials claimed a "hugely successful" start, saying that only 9 of 2,579 precincts failed to open on time, and those by only 10 or 15 minutes.

Cook County election officials said it was too early to estimate the suburban turnout, but that it could meet or exceed the presidential primary record of 40 percent set in 1992. The record in the city is 58.5 percent in 1984.

"It's probably the most important election I've ever voted in," said Tony Triglio, 41, one of the voters at the Rogers Park church. "We have the power to choose someone who can fix what the Bush administration messed up."

Illinois Democratic leaders seeking to help Obama pushed up the state's traditional March election, adding Illinois to what has become almost a national primary with contests in more than 20 states from California to New Jersey.

Republicans also will pick a presidential nominee in a fight focused on John McCain and Mitt Romney. They also will decide a Senate challenger to Democrat Dick Durbin and pick congressional contenders in three long-held GOP seats, including that of retired House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The retirement of Cook County State's Atty. Richard Devine set off the most intense local campaign, a six-way, wide-open race for the Democratic nomination to face an unopposed Republican in the fall. A recent Tribune poll showed a large number of voters undecided in the contest, which has generated most of the political TV commercials in Chicago this season.

Overall, more than 131,000 people cast early votes in the city and suburban Cook in balloting that ended Thursday, the second time the procedure has been allowed in a state election and the first time in a presidential contest. Of the total, 93 percent of the city's early votes and about 75 percent of the early ballots cast in suburban Cook County were by Democrats.

One potential sign of a sizable wave in Democratic voting in the state came from what has long been a Republican bastion in Illinois: DuPage County. Election officials said more than 15,500 early ballots had been cast with a majority of them—about 8,500—Democratic.

But even with the early indicators of voter turnout, a recent Tribune/WGN-TV poll showed considerable indecision among Democrats and Republicans in recent days, a reflection of a rapidly changing landscape with some presidential contenders ping out and others turning up the political rhetoric.

With about one in five Democrats and Republicans saying they were undecided headed into last weekend, some independent voters pondered whether to cast ballots for Obama or McCain. Even among voters who had made up their minds before last weekend, considerable numbers of Democrats and Republicans said they could change their minds as they enter the voting booths Tuesday.

At stake in the presidential contest are 153 Democratic convention nominating delegates and 57 Republican nominating delegates who represent the actual nuts and bolts of helping to decide the party's candidates.


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