CHICAGO - With tensions high across the country ahead of the hotly contested midterms, Chicago officials gathered at the Board of Elections supersite in the Loop Friday and pledged to protect voters and poll workers while insisting there are no looming threats ahead of Election Day.
The heightened concerns come two years after Donald Trump began falsely blamed widespread fraud for losing the presidency to Joe Biden — a claim that spawned conspiracy theories, fueled the riot at the U.S. Capitol and further polarized the political landscape.
"We find ourselves at a moment in American history where democracy and the free and fair election process has been called into question across the country," Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said during a news conference with Chicago Police Supt. David Brown and Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Max Bever.
Last month, federal authorities issued advisories warning about threats to both election workers and voters. A poll conducted in March by the Brennan Center, a nonprofit law and public policy institute headquartered in New York City, found that nearly 17% of poll workers reported being threatened.
But on Friday, Brown assured reporters there weren’t any "threats specific to Chicago," adding that his department’s social media team continues to monitor for anything alarming.
"We're partnering with local law enforcement and community organizations to ensure every resident can safely exercise their right to vote," Brown said.
Brown said officers will be assigned to fixed posts in some areas, but will give "special attention" to all 2,000 of the city's polling places. Police will also be stationed at the warehouses where election equipment is stored and conducting "premise checks" to monitor equipment, Brown said.
"Everything’s changed since 2020," Brown said. "We would normally not necessarily have the coordination that we’re having now. I think we are paying attention to what’s happening across the country these last 24 months, and making sure that we’re learning the lessons from other parts of the country as it relates to our elections and threats to our elected."
Amid claims of voter intimidation and concerns over armed election monitors in Arizona, a federal judge this week barred a right-wing group from openly carrying guns and harassing voters near ballot drop boxes, and from spreading false information about state election laws.
The group, Clean Elections USA, has embraced Trump’s false claims, which have led to a sweeping Republican effort to recruit like-minded poll watchers and workers.
"Despite what we’ve seen across the country, despite the attacks on our democracy, the elections that will take place here in Cook County will be open, fair and safe," Foxx said, promising that anyone making threats of violence or intimidation "will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."
Foxx acknowledged the nation’s politics have grown "far more hostile," noting that threats against her and other officials have prompted criminal charges. Most recently, a Chicago man was charged with threatening to mutilate and kill state Sen. Darren Bailey (R-Xenia), the Republican candidate for governor.
"I think we have made politics a sport and not recognized that there are actual people," she said.
Bever focused on dispelling conspiracy theories about hacked voting machines and fraud at ballot drop boxes that have been embraced by Trump supporters.
Voting machines are never connected to the internet and "there’s always a paper trail" to account for votes that were cast, Bever said. Drop boxes are locked, monitored and ballots are scooped up when polls close each day.
In addition to police monitoring polling places, Bever said the Board of Elections will put 400 of its own investigators — off-duty or retired cops — throughout city precincts tp maintain order and remove any election judges or poll-watchers who are acting problematic. They will also ensure that polling places both open and close on-time.
"We want all voters and poll workers in Chicago to feel safe and secure," he said.
The Cook County State's Attorney's Office has also set up election integrity hotlines where voters can report anything suspicious. To report any possible irregularities, people can call (773) 674-3311 or email email@example.com. Other issues at polling places can be reported to the election board’s central hotline at (312) 269-7870.
The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.