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Early voting the Chicago Way

Crowds wait to cast early votes in a city building in Jackson Park, on Chicago's south side. The wait on one recent morning was about 2 1/2 hours.
Nick Bogert
Crowds waiting to cast votes in the 2012 Presidential election pass a giant collage celebrating the 2008 election of Barack Obama.
Nick Bogert

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When you vote, you’re supposed to be free from electioneering. Campaign operatives and sign-wavers are supposed to, by Illinois law, stay 100 feet away from the polling place. No one’s supposed to be able to pressure you as you stand or sit, waiting to cast your ballot.

The Chicago polling place where I cast my early ballot, though, is a veritable shrine to Barack Obama. The slide show accompanying this article will give you a pretty good idea.

It’s a dingy city building in Jackson Park, just a couple of miles from where the President of the United States used to live, one of 51 early voting sites in the city.

Though the election judge forecast the wait at Jackson Park at about an hour, it actually took 2½ hours to cast a ballot on the morning I visited, with the waiting line snaking down a long hallway, around a corner, and then back again.

A giant collage lined the hallway, a celebration of Black History Month. It’s unclear how long it had been there. Black History Month is, after all, generally observed in February.

This display looks like it may well have been in place since February of 2009, a few weeks after Barack Obama was sworn in. There are a few photos of African-American pioneers like W.E.B. Dubois and Jack Johnson, but after a few feet of wall space, it’s all Obama and his historic inauguration.

The collage clippings uniformly adulatory. “The Spirit of Camelot” and “Diverse Crowd Came out to Support Obama” read the headlines. Above it all, homemade lettering spells out the 2008 campaign slogan— Obama Yes We Can.

It’s certainly not the even-handed, electioneering-free atmosphere election law and fairness call for. That call can be found on a lonely-looking poster entitled “Electioneering Prohibited” hanging on the wall opposite the collage.

Though the collage seems blatantly unfair in a polling place, it's likely that few votes have been swayed. This is Obama territory, with or without a mural. All the chatter about ballot choices ahead was pro-Obama in the largely African-American crowd. Inside the polling place, one woman said “Jesus willing, we’ll make some history again.”

Maybe they’ll update the collage in Jackson Park with news of a second Obama inauguration.

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