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UPDATED: Problems Arise At Polling Places

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Late Polling Place

Polling opened hours late at the Chicago Embassy Church, 5848 S. Princeton Ave. (Credit: CBS)

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Updated 02/22/11 – 11:31 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Elections officials fielded thousands of complaints as voters went to the polls in the election for mayor and City Council seats on Tuesday, though only a handful were for serious issues.

As 2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports, one complaint that underscores some of the tension at the polling places alleges that an Illinois state representative was involved in a physical confrontation at a 45th Ward polling place.

A voter there claimed State Rep. Joseph Lyons used foul language and obscene gestures, then chest butted and hit a precinct poll watcher who had complained about illegal electioneering.

Lyons admitted he bumped into a poll watcher who got in his way at the polling place, but denied hitting him.

Chicago police were called about the incident, but the victim declined to press charges.

Meantime, two election judges were kicked out of polling places and another got into an argument with firefighters who were hosting the polling place.

Chicago Board of Elections Chairman Langdon Neal said that, at a polling place inside a firehouse, an election judge felt the space was “too cozy or not comfortable enough, and asked the firemen to remove the fire trucks from the firehouse and park them on the street.”

The firemen refused to remove the fire trucks, and when a dispute arose, the judge walked out and abandoned work, Neal said.

“Our judge has now been removed by the board,” Neal said.

Two judges were removed from polling places on Tuesday for showing up drunk. In one case, the judge showed up drunk in the South Side’s 17th Ward. The other judges noticed alcohol on a judge’s breath, and by the time an investigator arrived, the judge had been removed.

Another judge showed up drunk at a polling place in the 11th Ward. An investigator from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners noticed a smell of booze on an election judge at a fire station polling place near 35th and Lowe.

Earlier in the day, another judge was yanked for showing up to a polling place intoxicated.

Also Tuesday morning, the Chicago Embassy Church, at 5848 S. Princeton Ave. in the 20th Ward, was still setting up voting booths and machines two hours after the polls opened.

Polling administrator Adrienne Nelson said at 6 a.m. when the polling place was supposed to open, the pastor who had the keys was nowhere to be found.

“If you’re not going to cooperate with the procedure, you shouldn’t volunteer your place,” Nelson said.

Neal said after investigating, the Board of Elections will ask the Cook County clerk’s office to keep the polling place open late. The board will also contact voters who might have been turned away find out if they can come back during the later hours, Neal said.

And there were dozens of electioneering complaints — not just for signs within 100 feet of a polling place, one of the most typical electioneering problems. Some supporters got creative, wearing their candidate’s name on shirts and hats inside polling places.

With ice on sidewalks and snow falling steadily, polling was a little slower than normal on Tuesday.

Neal said that election officials were hoping to get better than 50 percent turnout, but Neal said late Tuesday afternoon that turnout was expected to be about 40 percent unless more voters came out between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., when the polls close.

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