Election Day 2011: Low Turnout in Northfield Makes Election Judges Wonder

Some attribute low numbers to unopposed races, no referendum.

It's Tuesday morning, around 10:45 a.m. in Northfield's Precinct 20. Voting stations are set up next to big, red trucks in the Fire Department's garage. By this time last year, at least a hundred people had filtered through the polling place to mark their ballots. But now it's nearly five hours after the polls opened, and a scant 25 people have received their "I Voted" stickers.

 "That's very low," says Deb Lawrence, an election judge.

"Well, there are no national races and no state races," says Jennifer Bishop Jenkins, one of the other judges and a former candidate for Cook County commissioner. "And it was not particularly well-advertised out in the suburbs. A lot of people will say, 'I know there'll be a bunch of names I don't know.' It takes a little bit of effort in an election where you don't know the candidates."

A retired teacher chimes in as she passes Lawrence and Jenkins on her way out the door.

 "I always vote," she says. "I think it's very important. It can affect your life; it can affect your finances; it can affect your philosophy on teaching."

Frank Cuccio, another Northfield resident, agrees: "I usually vote all the time. Isn't that something we go after other nations for?"

Over at Precinct 44, the story is similar, but slightly worse. Only 20 people have cast their ballots by late morning.

"This is like we're watching paint dry," says Debra Altschul, who has been an election judge for the past 15 years. Usually, people are queued up at the door even before she puts the flag outside and opens the polls.

Altschul and her fellow judge Sharon King are philosophizing about the lack of voters.

"At the end of the day, they say 'How does it affect me?'" Altschul says.

"They don't have much to vote on," King says.

"Nobody's running against anybody, and there's no referendum, so their money isn't being spent," Altschul agrees, recalling last year when people were almost ready to bang down the door before the polls opened. "People came in and said, 'I don't care about the names; show me the referendum.'"

Over at the Northfield Community Church, Precinct 37 is only a little less sleepy. A few minutes past 11 a.m., 58 people have ticked their ballots.

"When the state's attorney came by to see how we were doing, we were at 45, and she said that was one of the highest around," says Bill Seymour, one of the four poll-workers.

Noticing a local judge walk in the door, election official Bob Avery remarks to himself, "Looks like we've got more chiefs than Indians."


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