HYDE PARK — More than a hundred prospective voters stood in line for hours to vote in Hyde Park because the polling place ran out of ballots during an afternoon and evening voting rush Tuesday night.
The 37th Precinct polling station at the Montgomery Place senior living facility, 5550 S. South Drive in Hyde Park, ran out of paper ballots at 3:30 p.m. and did not get a new batch until 7 p.m., according to Natasha Arnold, 27, an election coordinator on the scene. She estimated some voters waited as long as three hours in line to vote.
Arnold, who has served as an election judge for three years, said there were just over 300 ballots at the polling place when voting started Tuesday morning. Once they ran out, she said the experience of waiting for additional ballots was “terrible.”
The number of ballots delivered to a polling place is typically based off the number of registered voters in the precinct, Arnold said. Once she realized 600 people may be coming to vote at her location, she called the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners repeatedly.
“We just had to keep calling them and calling them, my election judges called a number of times, even voters called,” Arnold said.
Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said they are investigating why it took the warehouse so long to deliver the ballots.
“I know that my office received some of the calls and at that point we were working very closely with our election central to see how this could be resolved,” Allen said.
He called the ballot snafu in Hyde Park “a truly isolated incident.”
“It is not how we operate. This is the first time I’ve heard about this in my 12 years with the board,” Allen said. “This was a serious concern and we are going to make sure responses are far more timely than they were in this instance.”
While they waited for more ballots, Arnold helped standing seniors find chairs and created a number system to ensure those who stepped out of line to sit would retain their place once more ballots arrived. And the patient voters received a special surprise delivery of dozens of pizzas from Pizza to the Polls — a nonpartisan effort that sends pizzas to polling places experiencing long lines.
“This is the most hectic I’ve ever experienced as far as the voting goes,” Arnold said.
A lot of the voters who were waiting in line Tuesday are seniors who live at the retirement home. For them, waiting in line was “terrible,” Arnold said.
“A lot of [the seniors] were graceful and humble, they didn’t mind waiting or a lot of them didn’t really express that they were irritated, but some of them did say, ‘Hey, I’m still here, I’m still waiting, I want to vote,’” Arnold said.
Arnold and the other election judges at the polling place did not wrap up their night until about 9:10 p.m., she said. In previous years, they’ve ended at 8 p.m., she said.
“The people on the phone did their job as far as what they can do but I don’t know what the issue was with whoever actually delivers the ballots, I don’t know what their problem was,” Arnold said.
Laurieann Chutis, 75, who has lived at Montgomery Place for seven years, said she waited two hours before she could vote. When she got to the front of the line, she said she was handed a sign-in sheet and was told that ballots were on their way.
“I appreciated the people here waiting very patiently, very nicely, waiting to vote in a hot, stuffy corridor, good for them,” Chutis said.
Josef Michael Carr, who was working with Ald. Leslie Hairston’s 5th Ward office on Tuesday, said when he learned the polling place was without ballots during his 5 p.m. visit, he alerted Hairston.
He said Hairston visited Montgomery Place three times throughout the day. Carr requested that the polling place remain open until 9 p.m. to give everyone the opportunity to vote. He estimated 120-140 people were waiting to vote at one point during the evening.
Brit Tyus, 30, a first-time voter in Illinois and one of the final voters of the night, said she waited two hours to vote. When she previously voted in Michigan and California, she spent a maximum of 15 minutes at the polling place.
Prospective voters were both “agitated” and “confused” by the delay in Hyde Park, Tyus said.
“I think there was a lot of emotions because we do have the right to vote and I think a lot of people just felt like they were getting the short-end of the stick with this election at this location,” Tyus said.
“Honestly, I felt kind of embarrassed that this the type of situation I’m in today,” she said. “I have friends voting all across the nation and no one has had to go through this. I pride myself in living in Chicago, I pride myself even more living in Hyde Park, and to run into this is honestly embarrassing,” Tyus said.
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