Election Day, Spring 2011

Ray Criss cast his vote in the 20th Ward run-off election at the Ross School Annex-Gymnasium on East 61st Street in Chicago. (Heather Charles / Chicago Tribune / April 5, 2011)

Voter turnout for Chicago's aldermanic runoffs appeared to come in at less than 25 percent, though some wards on the North and Northwest Sides saw heavier turnout, officials say.

Complaints were also low, though a candidate in the 16th Ward was charged with misdemeanors after getting into an argument with election judges.

Police were called after a dispute between challenger Hal Baskin and election judges at about 3:30 p.m. at a polling place in the gym of the Nicholson School at 6066 S. Peoria St., officials said.

“They were feeling threatened. They called 911 which was the right thing to do,” said city elections spokesman Jim Allen. "I don't remember anything like this happening in 20 years. It was reported to police that he was intimidating the judges."

Baskin, a frequent aldermanic candidate, was charged with assault and interference with an election judge, according to Andy Conklin, a spokesman for the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. The Baskin campaign could not be immediately reached.

Generally, though, polling places were quiet in the city and suburbs. The polls closed at 7 p.m.

Turnout for a normal runoff in Chicago is 25 percent, but city elections chairman Langdon Neal said it looks like today will be “a hair under that.”

“It’s very slow,” Neal said. “We really don’t know what to expect tonight.”

Turnout was ranging from a high of 31 percent in the 41st, 43rd, 45th and 50th Wards on the North and Northwest sides to a low of 12 percent in the 15th and 16th Wards on the South Side.

There were “very few” voter complaints, Allen said, putting the runoff election’s price tag at about $5 million.

Cook County sheriff's deputies were dispatched about 10 times to "encourage" campaign supporters to "follow the rules" regarding electioneering, said Courtney Greve, spokeswoman for County Clerk David Orr.

"Electioneering happens every election and the amount we've seen today is probably the low average for a local election," Greve said.

A sheriff's deputy was called to a polling site in a Dolton school after it was reported that poll watchers were crowding the hallways, making it difficult for voters to get through.

In Oak Park, some polling workers reported running out of "I voted" stickers, where there are contested trustee races and a tax increase referendum for School District 97.

During the first 90 minutes of what's generally the busiest polling station in Orland Park, only 10 people had voted today.

"There are more election judges (16) here than voters," election judge Don Kress said of the turnout at the Orland Park Civic Center. "And I'm hearing that from other polling places as well. That's a shame. A lot of money is spent to host these elections."

Election Judge Barbara Lavey said she was surprised by the low turnout at her precinct at the American Legion Post 615 in Tinley Park.

"It’s eight hours and we’ve had 25," she said Tuesday afternoon. "We’re not getting up to 50."

Lavey’s precinct has a total of 865 registered voters, meaning less than 3 percent of the precinct had voted by 2 p.m. She is hoping for a rush once the workday ends.

In a precinct at the same polling location with 665 registered voters, only 16 ballots had been cast. Election Judge JoAnne Wojcik said she just hoped her precinct would see 25 voters by the end of the day.

Tinley Park resident Theresa Lanham was one of the few that did report to the polling place to vote Tuesday. She said it is her civic duty to vote.

"I think that is a shame that people who are allowed to vote do not come out and vote, and then complain about the government that’s in," said the 78-year-old. "If you don’t vote, you've got to shut your mouth and don't complain about it."

Some observers doubt there will be as much as a 10 percent voter turnout in Cook County.

Although there are 716 suburban Cook County races, with 26 referendums, only 40 percent of the races are contested, Greve said.

What's at stake in Chicago

Chicago's next mayor and two-thirds of the City Council were decided back in February, but there are still 14 aldermanic runoffs on the ballot Tuesday.

While turnout is typically much lower in a runoff election, there are no shortage of compelling storylines.

Tribune reporters and photojournalists will fan out across Chicago on Tuesday night to get on-the-scene reaction from the winners and losers.

Perhaps the highest-profile runoff is in the 50th Ward, where veteran Ald. Bernard Stone is trying to survive a tough challenge from Debra Silverstein. In that one, powerful Ald. Ed Burke is backing Stone and Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel is supporting Silverstein.

In the 6th Ward, Ald. Freddrenna Lyle is taking on Roderick Sawyer, son of the late Mayor Eugene Sawyer. In that one, Lyle has the backing of both Burke and Emanuel.