Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson files lawsuit to stop closure of voting precincts

Chicago mayoral candidate Willie Wilson filed a lawsuit Monday against the Chicago Board of Elections.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court, is seeking an injunction to stop the board from eliminating 121 neighborhood polling places.

"For them to do this here is moving time back to the Jim Crow days," Wilson said. "We filed this lawsuit because it's violating people's civil rights."


The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners decided this summer to eliminate 779 voter precincts, which will actually shut down 121 separate polling places, said a board spokesman. That's because a half-dozen or more precincts have typically been sharing a single voting location.

Wilson said the closures violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He said he's worried most about senior citizens — the age group most likely to vote — not knowing where to vote.

"They live off a fixed income. For them to move the poll, let’s say a mile away or five or six blocks, has been unfair to our number one voters, alright. In the whole city of Chicago, and Cook County, state of Illinois and around this country. I think it's wrong," Wilson said.

After Wilson filed the lawsuit, Mayor Lori Lightfoot rushed to point out that she neither appoints nor supervises the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

"The last thing that we should be about is shutting down opportunities for people to be able to vote. Now, having said that, there's been a lot more people who've taken advantage of early voting and who've taken advantage, also, of vote by mail," Lightfoot said.

A spokesman for the elections board said increasing numbers now vote by mail or vote early at locations in all 50 wards and downtown, reducing the volume of those casting ballots on election day itself.

Mayor Lightfoot disavowed the decision, noting that Chief Judge Tim Evans appoints members of the elections board.

"I wish I had more influence over them, but I do not," Lightfoot said. "Now, that doesn't mean I’m not concerned about the elimination of precincts."

The city's Board of Election Commissioners said the move will save about $2 million and eliminates the need for nearly 4,000 judges of election.

The Board of Election Commissioners, appointed by the Cook County Circuit Court, said they're implementing a new state law that dramatically increases the number of people who could be registered in a precinct.

While the law now allows up to 1,800 registered voters per precinct, the Chicago board said the new average number will be under 1,200 voters per precinct.

The board also said the overall number of polling locations in Chicago will not be greatly affected for the next three elections.

Among those very unhappy that many voters now face a longer trip to cast a ballot is the Republican nominee for Cook County Board President.

"Voter turnout is already at historic lows. So, we need to raise awareness, not decrease voter ability to have access to the polls," said Bob Fioretti.

Critics complain the elections board may have consulted City Council members, but failed to hold public hearings prior to its decision. The board does not plan to release a final list of polling places until early October.

"This actually will not provide enough notice to voters voting in the general election," complained former Cook County Board member Richard Boykin, who says some senior citizens "might actually lose the right to vote."

The new polling place plan faces a stress test of sorts in the Nov. 8 midterm elections in Chicago. Many observers expect voter turnout to be larger than usual.

Read the Chicago Board of Elections' full statement:

"The Chicago Board of Elections is performing its duties as required by the recent state legislation that has increased the size of election precincts all throughout the State of Illinois. For Cook County and the City of Chicago, that law increased the size of new precincts to contain up to 1,800 registered voters. The Chicago Board of Elections implemented the law below that requirement, with the average number of registered voters per precinct now totaling 1,165. The overall number of polling locations in Chicago will not be greatly affected for the next three elections. Every voter in Chicago continues to have an assigned precinct and polling place for Election Day, as well as continued options to Early Vote and Vote By Mail weeks ahead of every election, in addition to all Early Voting sites being open on Election Day for all Chicago voters, no matter where they live in the city."