Primary voting in Jesse Jackson Jr.'s former district

February 26, 2013 4:29:42 PM PST
Voting is underway the primary election to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. in Congress. Democratic front-runners Robin Kelly, Debbie Halvorson and Anthony Beale planned Election Day stops at train stations and restaurants.

Illinois' 2nd congressional district spans Chicago's South Side, south suburbs and some rural areas. Turnout at the polls has been low so far. Candidates and election officials know the winter storm that could dump up to six inches of snow on the region and could complicate Tuesday's logistics.

As of 1 p.m. Tuesday the turnout at a polling place in south suburban Richton Park was under four-percent.

"Right now, about 39 out of close to about 1100 registered voters," election judge Michael McDonald said.

Reports were similar throughout the South Side and suburbsand worsened with the weather. First rain turned to sleet and eventually snow.

Voters Cindy Collins and David Conrath could not believe the low turnout.

"That's unfortunate really it is. I mean this is your obligation to do this today," Collins said.

Election officials say they are in communication with streets and sanitation workers about making sure pathways to polls are kept clear. The general election is scheduled for April 9.

Gun control and ethics were main issues in the campaign. And both were on the minds of many voters.

There were issues with voting equipment as well.

One polling place, got some of the wrong equipment Tuesday morning, so there were a few angry voters who had to be turned away, but the polling place had the problem fixed.

"There is hope, you know, that things will get better, so I'm excited to vote," said voter Ronald Birton.

Myrtle Taylor voted in the South Chicago neighborhood and placed heavy importance on who would work hardest to fight crime.

"The gun violence issue, the person that I thought was against that," she said.

With a crowded field of candidates -- 14 Democrats and four Republicans -- couples went out to catch -- low numbers are expected, and the winners might only need a few thousand votes.

In south suburban Richton Park, one polling place received the wrong equipment and had to turn away a total of 12 voters.

"Judges did take their names and numbers, and they were notified that they can come and cast a paper ballot, and hopefully by that time we will have the touch screens up and running also," said Jerry Jones, field coordinator, Cook County Board of Elections.

Halvorson has cast her ballot Tuesday. Voters called out "good luck" and "go Debbie go" as the candidate walked through the polling place.

Speaking afterward, Halvorson said it's time for voters to close the chapter on Jackson's ethical problems and send someone to Washington who can hit the ground running.

Halvorson is counting on voters in the southern part of the district to help her in Tuesday's special Democratic primary. Halvorson grew up in the area to the south of Chicago and now lives in Crete.

David Berchem is a retired painter who voted for Halvorson. He believes she will represent all residents of the district and says she's "as honest a person as you can find."

While campaigning in a sunny South Side parking lot Monday, Alderman Anthony Beale said he wasn't worried about getting out the vote.

"We feel real confident about our ground game tomorrow. So I'm definitely not discouraged by the weather," Beale said.

Candidate Robin Kelly's campaign will adjust to the weather, Kelly said.

"I'm sure it will affect some people but we're taking measures to try and get people to the poll," she said.

With 14 Democrats in the race, an even lower-than-expected turnout means a candidate could win the party's nomination with only a few thousand votes.

Former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson said she wants voters to repudiate the $2 million ad campaign against her sponsored by New York City Mayor and gun-control advocate Michael Bloomberg.

"A mayor from New York will never control this election. We don't want someone sticking their nose in Illinois politics," Halvorson said.

Activist Paul McKinley is in the Republican primary with three other long-shot candidates in the heavily Democratic district. Each hopes to go one-one with the favored Democrats in the general election in April.

For McKinley, it's a struggle to convert voters one at a time.

"Everything is run by the Democrats so if something is wrong, it's the Democrats' fault," McKinley said.

Most of the Democratic candidates and all of the Republicans are poorly funded.

One of the candidates is calling for a federal investigation regarding Bloomberg Super PACs spending on behalf of Kelly.

"I am calling on the Department of Justice to step in and make certain that this election is actually fair," Ernest Fenton said.

Weeks ago, long before anyone had a weather forecast for Primary Day, the major campaigns expected no more than a 20-percent turnout which in the neighborhood of 50,000 votes total.

That number could decrease and possibly decrease dramatically if snow begins falling Tuesday morning on the South Side and southern suburbs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.