BREAKING: In Chicago, Reports of Voters Receiving Ballots Already Marked for Emanuel

After a Facebook post suggested voting irregularities blew up, similar reports are emerging.

Rick Perlstein April 7, 2015

A voter fills out her ballot at a polling station for Chicago's mayor race on April 7. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)

Around 10:30 this morn­ing, Sam Dreessen, a 26-year-old unem­ployed DePaul Uni­ver­si­ty grad­u­ate (and for­mer In These Times intern) who’s been vot­ing in Chica­go since 2006, walked into his polling place at Kozmin­s­ki Com­mu­ni­ty Acad­e­my on 54th and Drex­el, a most­ly black neigh­bor­hood in the city’s 5th Ward. He approached the elec­tion judge at the table and, like thou­sands of Chicagoans on this may­oral elec­tion day, received a paper bal­lot and a felt-tip pen. But, he says, one of the two blanks — the one you fill in to vote for May­or Rahm Emanuel — was already filled in. Dreessen, a vol­un­teer for Emanuel’s oppo­nent, Jesus Chuy” Gar­cia, smelled a rat.

I just said to one of them, the one who gave me the bal­lot, This has already been filled out. I want one that’s blank.’ And he act­ed sur­prised. He said, I don’t know how that hap­pened.’ And he even said there had been oth­er bal­lots with sim­i­lar prob­lems.’ He gave me one that was blank, and I told him more than once that they should look at all the bal­lots, the ones that hadn’t been hand­ed out yet, to see if this happened.”

Dreessen says he was too shocked to even take a pic­ture. And I thought, I don’t know, this must be hap­pen­ing to oth­er peo­ple.’ It just seemed to be so crude.”

He report­ed it next to the Gar­cia cam­paign office in near­by Wood­lawn, where they said they had already received sim­i­lar com­plaints. Then he took to Face­book, where he posts under the name Bar­ry Lyn­don.” As of 6:08, 52 min­utes before the polls close at 7, his post had been shared 538 times. He also texted what hap­pened to a neigh­bor of his who is a city elec­tion com­mis­sion­er, Marisel Her­nan­dez, who said she was send­ing inves­ti­ga­tors right away.”

I learned all this after track­ing Bar­ry Lyn­don” down and speak­ing to him late this after­noon. I was espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed to con­firm his sto­ry because on Face­book some Chicagoans, ever wary, feared the reports were a dirty trick from the Emanuel cam­paign to dis­cour­age peo­ple from vot­ing. But no, Sam Dreessen is real and stands by his sto­ry. And sim­i­lar accounts are cir­cu­lat­ing. The Gar­cia cam­paign says it has received sev­er­al accounts of bal­lots pre-marked for Emanuel and was able to con­firm one. Del­Marie Cobb, spokesper­son for 5th Ward Alder­man Leslie Hair­ston, told me she per­son­al­ly talked with one vot­er who ran into the same prob­lem vot­ing at O’Keeffe Ele­men­tary School at 69th and Mer­rill — an even more heav­i­ly minor­i­ty area. And she had heard sim­i­lar reports from her boss this morn­ing. (Alder­man Hair­ston, mean­while, a crit­ic of the may­or, warned about the same bal­lot irreg­u­lar­i­ty on her own Face­book page this after­noon.) Cobb also field­ed a report from a per­son vot­ing on an elec­tron­ic machine that tried to reg­is­ter a vote for Emanuel every time she punched in a vote for Garcia.

I have’t been yet been able to turn up any reports of irreg­u­lar­i­ties favor­ing Chuy Garcia.

Reached by the web­site DNAIn­fo, a Chica­go Board of Elec­tions spokesman did not deny the sto­ry, but did try to wave it away: If some­one is sug­gest­ing that the judges some­where are try­ing to slip one past our vot­ers, I think you’re insult­ing the intel­li­gence of our vot­ers,” Jim Allen said. If it were a con­spir­a­cy, it would prob­a­bly be the least effec­tive con­spir­a­cy in the his­to­ry of conspiracies.” 

This post will be updat­ed if press rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Cook Coun­ty State’s Attor­ney’s Office and Board of Elec­tions are able to return my calls. As for young Sam Dreessen, he’s had a busy day. Peo­ple have been con­tact­ing me from ABC, NBC, etc. It’s just kind of crazy. And hon­est­ly I feel like they should go to the peo­ple who’ve picked up oth­er com­plaints. I’m just one per­son. Oth­ers have been say­ing the same thing.”

Rick Perl­stein, an In These Times con­tribut­ing edi­tor, is the author of The Invis­i­ble Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Rea­gan (2014), Nixon­land: The Rise of a Pres­i­dent and the Frac­tur­ing of Amer­i­ca (2008), a New York Times best­seller picked as one of the best non­fic­tion books of the year by over a dozen pub­li­ca­tions, and Before the Storm: Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter and the Unmak­ing of the Amer­i­can Con­sen­sus, win­ner of the 2001 Los Ange­les Times Book Award for his­to­ry. His book Rea­gan­land is forth­com­ing from Simon and Schus­ter in August.
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