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Chicago’s City Council Votes Electronically For First Time After 185 Years Of Tallying Votes With Pen & Paper

The electronic voting system is part of a larger modernization of City Council business. Alderpeople also approved a $1.67 million settlement for Mia Wright, who was beaten by police at Brickyard Mall in 2020.

Ald. Michael Scott Jr. (24th) electronically votes at a City Council meeting on March 23, 2022.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — City Council leaped into the 21st century with the rollout of electronic voting — but not without some hiccups.

Alderpeople used personal tablets to electronically cast their votes for the first time Wednesday, abandoning the old-fashioned yelling of “aye” or “nay,” and lengthy roll call votes recorded by hand that made it difficult for Chicago residents to track how their alderperson was voting. 

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Anna Valencia presides over a vote at a City Council meeting on March 23, 2022.

The technology upgrades are part of a $3.5 million modernization spearheaded by City Clerk Anna Valencia that will include the complete digitization of City Council and committee files.

Valencia, who is running for Secretary of State, originally targeted late 2021 to implement electronic voting. The technology will help the City Council start moving to a paperless by spring. Aldermen will be able to gather co-sponsor signatures and introduce legislation electronically, rather than the current time-consuming paper process, she said.

Wednesday’s meeting began with an elementary school-style announcement from Valencia asking for each alderperson to “log into their devices” and raise their hands if they had issues. Staffers from the City Clerk’s office were on hand to work out glitches.

Alderpeople had mixed feelings on the upgrades. Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said he understood the need to “change with the times,” but lamented the fact the body would lose some of its “history.”

“I do believe sometimes that we lose the history of what this body does, and when you start changing things like that, you know, it just changes how this body operates,” he said.

Beale was more excited to digitize the process of gathering signatures in support of legislation and introducing new ordinances as part of the planned overhaul.

“We use a lot of paper, I mean a lot of paper. Maybe we can start to eliminate a lot of the paper, which would be a good thing,” Beale said.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Tech support works as votes are cast electronically for the first time at a City Council meeting on March 23, 2022.

Others were ready to leave history behind.

“One of the things that COVID has taught us is that a lot of times the city was delayed in its approach to technology,” said veteran Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th). “So we needed to get our act together.”

Freshman Ald. Rosanna Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd) was surprised by the archaic system that greeted her in 2019. 

“Why are we stuck in the Stone Age?” she asked “I think the processes are going to be a little bit more streamlined now, but I know that it is going to take a little bit of time.”

Former Ald. Joe Moore (49th), who served on City Council from 1991-2019 and was in attendance Wednesday, said it was “more inertia than anything else” on why it took so long for the body to adopt the process.

“Once they get the bugs out, I think it’ll speed things up, especially on some of the controversial measures where they vote on the item, then they vote on a motion to reconsider and all that,” he said. “More importantly is that the voters will know right away how their alderman voted.”

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Council approves settlement for woman battered by police at Brickyard Mall

After a vote was blocked last month, City Council voted 34-13 to pay $1.67 million to Mia Wright, who was violently dragged from her car by Chicago police officers and left blind in one eye in a chaotic attack caught on video.

Wright filed the lawsuit after being attacked by officers May 31, 2020, outside Brickyard Mall, 2600 n. Narragansett Ave.

After narrowly clearing the City Council’s Finance Committee in February, Alds. Ray Lopez (15th), Silvana Tabares (23rd), Felix Cardona (31st) and Nick Sposato (38th) used a stall tactic to block a vote on the ordinance until this month.

Wright said she had gone to Brickyard Mall to shop for a birthday celebration the same day peaceful protests over George Floyd’s murder gave way to looting and property destruction around the city in 2020.

Wright saw the mall was closed and started to head home when at least 10 officers swarmed her car, screaming profanities and beating their batons on the windows, video shows.

Several bystanders filmed the encounter, which showed officers breaking the windows of the car and dragging Wright out by her hair. Officers also pulled a male family friend from the car. Wright said she struggled to breathe and feared for her life while an officer forced her to the ground and knelt on the back of her neck.

The City Council also approved an ordinance forbidding approximately $6.7 billion in city financial assets from being invested with major fossil fuel companies. 

Sponsored by Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) Ald. George Cardenas (12th), Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), and Ald. Maria Hadden (49th), the ordinance requires City Treasurer Melissa Conyears Ervin to develop a policy that lists the top companies owning coal, oil and gas reserves and ranked by “potential carbon emissions embedded in their reserves.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, Conyears Ervin joined alderpeople for a press conference touting the ordinance, saying her office has already developed a list of 225 companies that are coal, oil and gas reserve owners and already divested more than $70 million in bonds previously held by the city.

“All our policies, including our fiscal ones, should protect the health and wellbeing of Chicagoans and I’m proud that our city can be a leader in moving towards a clean energy future,” she said.

Another ordinance approved Wednesday, introduced by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th), bars people charged with or convicted of treason from doing business with the city. The final version also prevents people convicted of hate crimes from doing business with the city. 

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