Early voting in Palatine will take place at a village-owned building south of the Metra station — not village hall as usual — a decision that came after lots of behind-the-scenes work and much chatter on Facebook.
Village Manager Reid Ottesen said the meeting room inside village hall typically used for early voting was not a good option for the Nov. 3 election for two reasons: the space is too small to accommodate social distancing and enough voting kiosks needed for the larger turnout of a presidential election, and the extension to Oct. 31 of the village’s deadline to purchase vehicle stickers, which in the past has caused lines outside the building.
Ottesen said he provided three or four alternatives to the Cook County Clerk’s office in July, including the training room at the police station. A Cook County representative visited the space and an agreement was reached earlier this month to use it for early voting, Ottesen said.
But the clerk’s office later informed the village that concerns were raised about using the police station as a voting site, Ottesen said.
The same county representative then met village officials at 150 W. Wilson, which has been empty for about four years after it was used as a temporary location for village hall during construction, Ottesen said. The location has ample parking, now empty because commuters are not using the Metra as much due to COVID-19, he said.
An agreement to use that space was finalized Monday, under which Cook County will pay about $1,500 for the village’s public works staff to clean up the space, ensure the bathrooms are working and remove some furniture.
The process of nailing down locations can be complex and it’s not uncommon to revisit early decisions, said Cook County Deputy Clerk of Elections Edmund Michalowski. Factors include parking, accessibility, bathrooms, entry and exit, and ideally having full use of a dedicated space like at 150 W. Wilson St. in Palatine, he said.
Michalowski said he wasn’t aware of any complaints about the Palatine police station as a location, but he got an email from someone who suggested that moving early voting away from the police station would be biased against police, he said.
“We are not anti-police,” he said, noting the clerk’s office relies on the Cook County Sheriff’s Office for help when necessary. “We want to make sure our decisions are fair, independent and unbiased.”
The office also is working on making early voting available at Union Station and other train stations in Chicago, which will make voting easier for suburban commuters, Michalowski said.
Palatine resident Ann Bell was among those who reached out to village officials concerned that Palatine would not have an early voting site. Bell said she was glad a site was finalized Monday.
“Palatine is a town of almost 70,000 people. That’s a lot of people to not get all the available options (for voting). To me, it’s about having the option,” she said.
Bell would have been OK with early voting at village hall or the police department, but was bothered by the lack of communication from the village, she said. “Nothing was ever sent in the village newsletter about what happened and what the plan was. There was nothing on the website,” she said.
The village posted on its website on Monday afternoon an announcement that early voting will take place 150 W. Wilson St.
“I am not dismissing anybody’s concern about where to vote. I think the county has done a tremendous job by providing multiple sites for early voting,” Ottesen said. “I think the more ways that you can vote, the better. I think this is probably one of the most critical elections this country can face. And while it’s the county’s job to provide the voting, I see ourselves as those that can bring the facilities to do that.”
Early voting in Cook County will take place Oct. 19 to Nov. 2. The clerk’s office lists more than 40 locations in the suburbs but not Palatine, yet. The website states locations and hours can be found in mid-September.