HPNC sign

The sign posted at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave., on Election Day, March 17

Staci Robinson arrived to vote Tuesday at the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club (HPNC) only to see a sign that the polling place there was closed with instructions to call 3-1-1 for more information.

"Of course, myself and several other people who were out there unaware that the site had been closed tried to reach 3-1-1 as well; none of us got an answer," she said in an interview late on Election Day. She opted to receive a call back from the city services hotline but, hours later, had not received one. 

Robinson posted to Twitter and Facebook about the issue, and a friend sent her the link to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners' page, where she learned that she was to vote at the former Canter Middle School, 4959 S. Blackstone Ave.

"I understand what we have going on, but I think things could have been done a whole lot better," she said. "I thought it was odd that that they would not even list the new place to go to. For a second, I'm not going to lie about it, it went through my head: 'Are the people working with the polls trying to discourage us from voting?'"

On Facebook and the "Good Neighbors" Google Group, Sarah Lickey Diwan, Development Director at the HPNC, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave., said the decision to close the polling place there came at the last minute, in the wake of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's decision to close Illinois' schools.

"Upon hearing this news, HPNC stepped forward with a plan to provide emergency child care for parents and others with no choice but to go to work," she wrote.

"While we are usually proud to act as a polling place," she emailed, "we simply had to cancel for this round due to our commitment to provide socially distanced emergency childcare to working parents, including Medical Center employees."

The elections judges at Canter told Diwan they had been there since 5 a.m. and did not get their equipment until 10.

The coronavirus pandemic also effected the relocation of the polling place at Montgomery Place, 5550 S. Shore Drive, an assisted living facility, 12 blocks away to the Jackson Park fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave.

"I just think at the end of the day that they probably weren't prepared for this, hoping it would be low turnout," Robinson said. "I really think, even though it's a low turnout, I think they got more than they expected."

"A lot of it becomes discouraging. You have sites that close down; of course, you have people who've called off. We understand that. Everybody is thinking about their health and things of that nature," she continued. "But still, it's almost like they didn't think anyone hardly would ever show up, and they got more bang for their buck than they expected."

The Elections Board did not return request for comment.

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