Suffredin- An Advocate for All of Us  
 

Accountability
Forest Preserves
Public Safety
Cook County Budget
Forest Pres. Budget
Property Tax Appeal
Health & Hospitals
Land Bank Authority
Policy Resolutions
Unsung Heroine

 

   
 
   
   
 
   
     
  Office phone numbers:  
   
 
 

The Cook County Code of Ordinances are the current laws of Cook County.

   
 

Search current and proposed Cook County Legislation in Larry's exclusive legislative library.

   
  The first blood bank in the world was established at Cook County Hospital by Dr. Bernard Fantus in 1937.
   
     
     
     



Cook County Jail set for in-person voting despite COVID-19 setbacks: ‘It’s also about social justice, it’s about fairness, it’s about hope’

Monday, September 21, 2020
Chicago Tribune
by Kelli Smith

During the March primary, Cook County Jail for the first time in its long history operated as an election precinct for in-person voting, according to county officials.

Officials are now preparing to have voting at the jail during the general election — but COVID-19 has complicated those efforts.

“We’re all waiting to see how this is going to play out,” said Mary Cortese, 42, one of about 1,500 pretrial detainees who voted at the jail during the primary. “We’re still getting the information, it’s just slowed things down.”

The jail was made an election precinct after Illinois passed legislation last year requiring counties with at least 3 million residents — only Cook County fits that description — to establish a “temporary branch polling place in the county jail.”

More than a third of the 5,300 people incarcerated at the jail voted in the primary, “a significant increase” from past years, according to the Chicago Board of Elections, which along with the sheriff’s and county clerk’s offices, helps run the jail’s polling places.

In previous elections, detainees voted through absentee ballots. That contributed to smaller turnouts — only 967 detainees citywide participated in the 2016 primary and 1,329 in the 2016 general election.

PAID POST

Evanston,Illinois Launches New Policy For Cars Used Less Than 49 Miles/Day
Evanston,Illinois Launches New Policy For Cars Used Less Than 49 Miles/Day

Drivers With No Tickets In 3 Years Should Do This On September

SEE MORE

Sponsored Content by Comparisons.org

County officials believe the jail may have been the first in the country to operate as a precinct, said Cook County sheriff’s office spokesman Matt Walberg. In the general election, partly as a concession to the pandemic but also due to a smaller population, the jail is set to operate four polling places, three fewer than in the primary.

The jail was a hot spot for the coronavirus in the early months of the pandemic. In the weeks following the primary, COVID-19 spread rapidly in the jail, killing seven detainees before officials stemmed the outbreak. Some inmates decried the jail’s conditions, prompting a lawsuit and subsequent court mandate that the sheriff’s office improve COVID-19 protections for inmates.

Marlena Jentz, assistant executive director of programs at the Cook County sheriff’s office, said the jail has been adhering to health guidelines and will continue doing so for early voting. The jail requires a screen questionnaire and temperature check for anyone entering the facility, and social distancing and masks for detainees and visitors.

The jail plans to conduct in-person voting the weekends of Oct. 17-18 and Oct. 24-25.

“We will continue to follow those guidelines to make sure that we do all that we can to enforce protective measures and make sure that we take the appropriate steps to have a successful early voting,” Jentz said.

Local election officials briefly discussed going back to mail-in voting at the jail because of COVID-19. Community groups pushed back against the idea, said Stevie Valles, executive director of the civic advocacy organization Chicago Votes, which works closely with officials on the jail’s election activities.

It’s difficult to reach and register inmates in time for absentee ballot deadlines, Valles said. In-person voting on the jail’s campus seemed “the most equitable way” to ensure votes were counted.

“They are getting as equal access to the ballot as anybody who’s outside of jail, which is legally their right,” Valles said.

Another initiative impacted by COVID-19 has been the jail’s educational programs. With the facility’s restricted visitor policies, guest speakers haven’t been able to conduct civic-oriented seminars as they did during the primary.

Jentz said officials are airing civic-oriented programs on the jail’s televisions, providing Informational flyers and having questions answered through the inmate services department.

The jail’s voting and educational initiatives are part of a larger effort to ensure those in custody return to the community “more productive, engaged citizens,” according to Jentz.

“It’s not just about compliance with the law in Illinois, but it’s also about social justice, it’s about fairness, it’s about hope,” she said.

If not for COVID-19, Valles said he and his co-workers would be discussing civic participation with detainees at the jail every month.

“Without us being in there every month having those dialogues, there’s a risk that folks are not as engaged as they’ve been in prior elections we’ve been doing this,” Valles said.

He described inmates’ reaction to voting as “an emotional one” hard to put into words. Allowing them to vote in person seemed to communicate a message that “society does care” about them, he said.

“When you see their faces and kind of felt their energy, you knew it was like, ‘Damn, this is a big deal,’” Valles said. "They know it’s a big deal. And the emotion on their faces and the way they verbalized it is just — it makes you feel as an advocate like you’re doing the right thing.”

Kelli Smith
CONTACT

Kelli Smith is the 2020 Don Wycliff fellow at the Chicago Tribune. She recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame, where she majored in political science and television with a minor in journalism. Before joining the Tribune, she interned at The Dallas Morning News and KTSM, the local NBC affiliate in El Paso.

 

 



Recent Headlines

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle proposes raising Forest Preserves budget next year with rainy day funds
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Chicago Tribune

Delays leave suburban Cook voters wondering if their ballots will count
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times

Illinois orders tighter restrictions on bars, restaurants and gatherings in several suburban counties as coronavirus positivity rates rise
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Chicago Tribune

Why some Cook County voters are still waiting for mail-in ballots
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Daily Herald

Editorial: Impact of COVID-19 emphasizes role of ACA in Cook County budgeting
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Daily Herald

Cook County tosses ‘lifeline’ to needy residents, opening housing voucher waiting list for first time since 2001
Monday, October 19, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times

'COVID fatigue' blamed for second surge in coronavirus cases; Chicago health experts warn people not to let their guard down
Monday, October 19, 2020
WLS ABC 7 Eyewitness News

Coronavirus in Illinois updates: COVID-19 cases on the rise in long-term care facilities; applications open for relief fund for restaurant workers
Monday, October 19, 2020
Chicago Tribune

For first time in nearly 20 years, Cook County opens suburban housing voucher waitlist. At least 10K people already applied.
Monday, October 19, 2020
Chicago Tribune

Editorial: Preckwinkle balances the county’s COVID budget. Next up, Lightfoot.
Monday, October 19, 2020
Chicago Tribune

Gov. J.B. Pritzker blames President Trump and his allies for coronavirus spike in Illinois
Sunday, October 18, 2020
Chicago Tribune

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle outlines $6.9 billion budget plan: ‘This pandemic has dealt Cook County and its residents a catastrophic blow’
Friday, October 16, 2020
Chicago Tribune

Preckwinkle touts restorative justice in budget that slashes court, jail funding: ‘We cannot police our way out’
Friday, October 16, 2020
The Daily Line

‘We Are In a New Wave of COVID-19’: Pritzker
Friday, October 16, 2020
WTTW News

Everything You Need To Know About Voting Drop Boxes In Illinois
Friday, October 16, 2020
WBEZ News

Pritzker Extends Ban on Evictions for 7th Month
Friday, October 16, 2020
WTTW News

Pritzker to extend eviction moratorium another 30 days: ‘Nothing really has changed’
Friday, October 16, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times

Record-high Illinois COVID-19 caseload, hospitalizations and positive test rate rising: ‘We are in a new wave
Friday, October 16, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times

A Cook County budget built to ‘weather the storm’ — but the rain had better be moving on
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times

Layoffs, cutting vacant jobs all part of Preckwinkle’s $6.9 billion budget plan to ride out COVID-19 storm
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times

all news items

Paid for by Larry Suffredin and not at taxpayer expense. A Haymarket Production.
^ TOP