CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other city officials on Friday vowed to ensure a safe and secure voting process on Election Day, and urged people to keep any protests peaceful, no matter the outcome of the election, hoping to avoid a repeat of the widespread civil unrest that broke out across Chicago this summer.
“Regardless of what happens, November 3rd will be a big day for all of us, and our goal is clear: keep Chicagoans safe as we take part in this momentous day,” Lightfoot said.
The mayor said, no matter who wins the elections on Tuesday, protesters should keep their demonstrations peaceful.
“We need to deescalate from this long difficult year, and as I said, I know that emotions are already high. There’s a lot of apprehension what might happen next Tuesday, but please, I call upon each of you to channel your emotions into a peaceful, productive means of expression,” she said.
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With Halloween coming on Saturday and Election Day just three days later, the city is launching a 10-day safety plan in an effort to avoid chaos over the holiday weekend, or in response to the election.
Starting Friday, the Chicago Police Department is stepping up patrols citywide. Supt. David Brown said CPD has cancelled all days off for officers on Halloween, and selected citywide teams have had days off cancelled for the next 10 days.
The mayor said over the next several days, people in Chicago will see a heightened presence of police officers in uniform, squad cars with flashing lights, and other city vehicles setting up as barricades if needed.
“We want to be visible, but we also want to be calm and confident that we are being diligent,” she said.
Lightfoot said the city will deploy 60 to 300 garbage trucks, snow plows, and other heavy city vehicles to potentially act as blockades if necessary to protect neighborhoods, commercial corridors, and critical businesses if needed. The mayor said the city also is prepared to take additional steps to block off access to downtown or other parts of the city if needed, should there be any widespread civil unrest.
“If we need to take more aggressive measures to shut down parts of the city to address critical infrastructure, we are prepared to take those steps,” she said.
Lightfoot said she’s prepared to do whatever it takes to prevent another round of looting or allowing massive protests to turn violent, including shutting down parts of the CTA if necessary. She said, during the widespread civil unrest in late May and early June, there were reports of people trying to take control of CTA buses and trains.
“The transit unions were reaching out to me in a panic and asking for us to do things that were necessary to protect the workers, including shutting down transit,” she said. “I hope that we never see again in this city that kind of violence, but if we do and if there is a reason for us to take those extreme measures. I’m not gonna hesitate to do that.”
The city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications also is activating its emergency operations center on Friday, to monitor any potential protests or other crowds, as well as coordinate requests for resources over the next 10 days.
As for the election itself, Lightfoot said city officials have been focused on two key issues: assuring voting integrity, and protecting public health and safety.
“It is absolutely safe to vote, and we encourage everyone to do so. Whether early voting or in-person voting, it is safe to vote,” she said.
Lightfoot said her office has been working with the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners to make sure the election goes off without a hitch.
“We are doing everything we can to protect and encourage your right to vote,” she said.
Board of Election Commissioners Chairwoman Marisel Hernandez said early voting and mail voting already have broken records, with nearly 650,000 votes already cast as of Friday morning. According to the board, 280,606 people have voted early in person, and 363,237 voters have returned mail ballots.
Hernandez said election officials are following CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines at every polling place in Chicago; including strict social distancing measures, with polling stations spaced six feet apart, plexiglass dividers set up at election judges’ tables, and masks and hand sanitizers available to voters at every polling site.
Hernandez said, if you’re voting by mail, at this point you should drop off your ballot at a secured drop box to make sure it arrives on time. If you send in your ballot by mail, make sure it gets to the post office by Election Day. Mail ballots must be postmarked by Election Day and received by the election board within 14 days after the election in order to be counted.
The city has secured drop boxes at all early voting locations and 26 libraries. On Election Day, dropboxes also will be available at the United Center, Wrigley Field, and Guaranteed Rate Field, according to Hernandez. The United Center also will be open as a voting supersite for all Chicago voters on Election Day.
Lightfoot said anyone voting in person also needs to make sure they cover their mouth and nose to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“You must wear a face covering, a mask, when you go into a polling place. Do not make election workers or election judges remind you of this,” she said.
Supt. Brown said CPD intelligence-gathering efforts point to a peaceful weekend and a safe election.
“We have no credible information now that there’s a particular threat anywhere, but we remain on heightened alert and diligent,” Brown said.
Lightfoot and Brown said CPD, OEMC, and other city departments also have held several training exercises in recent weeks, aimed at preparing for weather emergencies, COVID outbreaks, and potential protests.
“Should demonstrations take place, our officers will be there to protect the First Amendment rights of protesters,” Brown said. “People in general have very high anxiety as it relates to the upcoming election, and we understand that, and we are focused on ensuring optimal work to deescalate, to calm tensions so that everyone is comfortable exercising their right to vote.”
At the same time, Brown said police would have “zero tolerance” for criminal behavior, and said officers would act swiftly to respond to looting if they see it happening.
“Don’t loot in Chicago. If you do loot, you will be held accountable. If you escape, we will find you and bring you to justice,” he said.