Election Day Proves Quiet on the Protest Front

8th Day Center for Justice members hold an anti-war peace vigil on Election Day in the financial district at Jackson and LaSalle.

Occupy Chicago protesters were uncharacteristically quiet on Election Day. Obama headquarters at Prudential Plaza on 130 East Randolph felt and looked like a typical workday. The popular Jackson and LaSalle intersection in the financial district was business as usual. Grant Park remained empty throughout the day and into the night.

The NATO summit held in May drew thousands of protesters to places like Grant Park and the financial district. Confrontations with Chicago police, some even violent, led to a significant number of arrests. In September flocks of Occupy members joined forces to rally and support the Chicago teachers’ strike. Both events caused traffic delays and overall unrest in downtown Chicago.

Twitter seemed to be the main platform Occupy Chicago used to voice any opinions about the Election. Some of their tweets during Election Day included: “Aint no party like a Wall St party cause no matter who wins they win” and “We keep hearing about Obama & Romney…when are they going to tell everyone Goldman Sachs is the next president.”

Shortly after Obama’s victory was announced they tweeted: “”I haven’t seen people this happy since they killed Bin Laden.”

At 7:16 p.m. CST on Tuesday, the Twitter Government and Politics team declared Election Day the most tweeted about event in US Political History, with over 20 million tweets. By the end of the night the total had risen to 31 million.

Some Occupy Chicago supporters made appearances at the polls. Occupy supporter David Orlikoff spent Election Day at a polling location in West Town informing voters about a ballot measure for an elected school board.

“Voting, and not voting, and everything in between are all direct action tactics,” said Orlikoff. “But what matters far more is what we do every other day and for the rest of the year.”

Tuesday morning two Occupy members raised a banner above the Kennedy expressway which read: “”No Matter Who Wins, The 99% Loses”. The Instagram photo made the rounds via Twitter.

Although Occupy protesters stayed away from Jackson and LaSalle on Election Day, members from the 8th Day Center for Justice held an anti-war peace vigil from 8:00-9:00 am, as they have every Tuesday since September 11, 2001. “I think we’ve missed maybe three or fourth Tuesdays because of weather but that’s it,” said staff member and Hyde Park resident Gwen Farry. “Some people come out from the suburbs.”

As the clock neared 8:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, 8th Day members greeted each other with warm embraces. Feelings of camaraderie and unity radiated from members’ associations with one another. Dressed for the cold in warm hats and coats, members each held homemade signs with messages such as “War is Preposterous” and “Find Peace in Your Heart.”

8th Day Center for Justice staff member Mary Kay Flanigan holds an anti-war sign.

Talk about the election was intermingled with updates on grandchildren and 8th Day business. Longtime 8th Day member Bob Bossie said while he’s sure both candidates are kind, caring individuals, “It’s not a question of personality. This is a question of policy.” He fondly recalled Obama’s November 2008 victory speech in Grant Park and the need for America to push forward.

The 8th Day Center for Justice is a coalition of Catholic congregations committed to promoting nonviolence, mutuality, and cooperation. Several of the members present on Tuesday have been very actively involved in working to close the School of the Americas (SOA). Several have even spent time in the SOA prison. The School of the Americas is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.

“We know the prison is wrecking our economy, as is the cost of war,” said staff member Mary Kay Flanigan.

Here Flanigan talks about her work to close the School of the Americas and the time she spent in prison:

Staff member Kathleen Desautels arrived later than usual to the Tuesday peace vigil because of technological difficulties with the electronic voting equipment at her polling location in Humboldt Park. Desautels said she told an election judge that if Obama lost by one vote she would haunt her. When Desautels learned of Obama’s re-election, she said she was relieved but also very aware of the increased pressure put on the Obama administration and congress.

“It’s the ‘system’ that’s the problem,” said Desautels. “Obama will be able to do only what organized citizens demand of him.”

2012 Presidential Election Q&A: Chris Wernecke, DePaul College Democrats

DePaul College Democrats President Chris Wernecke talks about the presidential election. Photo by Jennifer McCall.

Organizations like the DePaul College Democrats encourage Millennials — young people ages 18 – 29 years old — to engage in national and local politics. Forty-six million Millennials are eligible to vote in the upcoming presidential election, according to The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Millennials makeup 21% of the eligible voting population.

Chris Wernecke is a 20-year-old junior at DePaul University majoring in political science. He joined the DePaul College Democrats his freshman year and began his tenure as president in spring of 2012.

In this Q&A, Chris discusses key issues related to the upcoming presidential election, why the Democratic platform resonates with college students, and how the DePaul College Democrats are impacting their community.

Q. What do you think is the most important issue at stake in this presidential election?

A. Absolutely, the economy — the economy and jobs are number one. I think both campaigns have done a fantastic job in making that the central issue. However, on a personal level I think the most important issue is the direction of the country.

I think in 2010 we saw the Republican Party hijacked by extremists in the Tea Party. I hope this election is a referendum on that and we bring the Republican Party back down to earth so we can compromise, because there are issues that we can compromise on. We’ve seen hyper paralysis in the congress and nothing’s been done. I think a key to good government is compromise.

Q. What do you feel is one of the most significant disadvantages faced by the Democratic Party in this election?

A. The incumbency factor. The Romney campaign wants to make this a referendum on the Obama presidency. The Obama campaign, on the other hand, wants to make this a choice — a clear-cut distinction between us and them. I think the Obama campaign has done a fantastic job at making it a choice campaign, and the Romney campaign has done a good job of making it a referendum.

Q. If President Obama is re-elected, what do you predict the economy will look like in four years? What if Governor Romney is elected?

A. I believe, if President Obama is re-elected, the economy will continue to improve. In four years it will be the very definition of “structurally sound”. Whoever is elected in November will reap the benefits of the actions taken over the last four years. It took us awhile to get into this mess and it will understandably take a good deal of time to get out of it.

If Governor Romney is elected, I am not one to think that the United States will fall off a cliff. Governor Romney will do his best to improve the economy just as President Obama has done. The difference, however, will be his bending and buckling to the Tea Party extremists who believe compromise is a dirty word. Congress and the ability to compromise will ultimately determine the fate of the economy.

Q. How does DePaul’s status as the largest Catholic university in the nation influence its students’ political affiliations and beliefs?

A. I believe the premise of this university affects students in a multitude of ways. As a Lutheran attending the largest Catholic university in the nation, I was surprised to see that this institution does not push its views upon the student body in a forceful way. It is, rather, through the Vincentian Way that I see the most influence. Helping those who struggle to help themselves, a sense of community, a devotion to the notion that all of us, despite our diverse and differing backgrounds, stand before the eyes of God in the same light — these ideas are what I see influencing our student body.

The tricky part is then transferring that influence into the scope of politics. Some believe politics taints what I previously mentioned and do not wish to partake. Others are just apathetic to the idea of politics and choose not to partake and others use the practice of religion to the extreme in politics.

Q. How would you describe the DePaul student body’s level of interest in the presidential election?

A. From what I have seen in class and speaking with friends, the level of interest in this election is actually quite astonishing. Despite common belief, I believe my generation, and my classmates in particular, have a vested interest in these affairs. The problem is articulating this interest into a tangible view, and through that, a tangible vote.

Q. What are the DePaul College Democrats doing to increase students’ political involvement? 

A. We are huge on the election this quarter for obvious reasons. We will be making trips to Ohio, and possibly Wisconsin and Iowa, to canvas a campaign for the President. Being battleground states, they are important. In terms of the DePaul community, last year we explored the idea of “Dems 101” meetings where we would educate the student body on a given issue from the democratic standpoint, the history of the democratic party, and how we’ve evolved on the issue.

It wasn’t until this election cycle that the Democrat party included gay marriage as part of their platform. Talking about the evolution of that is key, and I think DePaul students are interested in hearing that.

Q. Student debt is at an all-time high. Has this come up as a hot topic among DePaul students?

A. Yeah, a lot. There’s an anti-capitalist coalition on campus. While I don’t agree with what they say, a big issue is student tuition and they’re absolutely right. We go to a private university where the federal government role is minimal at best, but from what I’ve heard from meetings and in class, it’s a huge issue.

Q. How will the October debates influence DePaul students’ votes?

A. Like most Americans, I believe college students know who they are voting for by now. The debates will only serve to sure-up these votes and draw clear lines in the sand. For the rare undecided college voter, the debates will serve as a clear distinction between the two tickets. Whoever can best present their ideas will draw these undecideds to them.

Q. How will DePaul students be casting their votes in this election? 

A. From what I’ve heard, people are going to mail in their ballots. I live in the suburbs. I will be going home to vote on Election Day because I’m a nerd and a romantic in that sense, but otherwise I’ve heard people are going to vote absentee.

Q. Are the DePaul College Democrats involved in any local-level politics? 

A. In any other year, the DePaul College Democrats are heavily vested in local politics. We have a close relationship with Alderwoman Michelle Smith and other ward leaders. We have had candidates and leaders from the suburbs to the water reclamation district come in and talk with us. This year, however, our main focus and drive is on the national campaign.

Q. Why do you and fellow members of the DePaul College Democrats identify with the Democratic Party?

A. We identify with the Democratic Party because the values, ideas and policies portrayed in the Democratic Platform speak to us in a way that others do not. We are the Democratic Platform — it is ours to build and promote for generations to come.

Cook County Expects Absentee Voting Increase

Noah Praetz Photo

Noah Praetz of the Cook County Clerk’s office talks about sample ballots at a DePaul University journalism class. (Photo by Mike Reilley)

Cook County predicts more residents will cast absentee ballots in November thanks to new legislation, which allows all registered voters to vote by mail.

“We expect and are ramping up for this to become a much greater portion of our voting,” said Noah Praetz, Deputy Director of Elections for the Cook County Clerk’s office.

“Four years ago there were only about 25,000 absentee ballots returned and I think we could double, triple, even quadruple that this year.”

Cook County is prepared for the absentee ballot increase thanks to a new mail-sorting system introduced in March 2012. The $216,964 machine was paid for by federal grant funds authorized under the Help America Vote Act. The new system processes approximately 10 ballots per minute and has greatly reduced labor costs.

“We have a positive return on our investment with only a year on it,” said Praetz.

Illinois is one of many states using absentee ballots to help cut costs. Thirty-two states and Washington D.C. no longer require voters to provide a reason or excuse to vote by mail. Both Oregon and Washington state are exclusively all-mail voting.

“The per-vote cost of administering a mail in program is tremendously lower than the per-vote cost of precinct voting,” said Praetz.

Absentee voting is now strongly encouraged by the Cook County Clerk’s office. The last day to apply for an absentee ballot is five days before the election, Praetz said.

Other changes this year for Cook County voters include a shorter early voting period. In 2008 approximately 60-65 percent of early voting occurred during the last week of the early voting period. Less than 20 percent took place during week one.

To reduce cost and increase productivity, the early voting period will be Oct. 22 to Nov. 3. Praetz said the clerk’s office predicts this condensed early voting period will satisfy more voters’ needs and potentially increase overall turnout.

Cook County residents also have more voter registration options than in years past. A new state law called “grace period registration and voting” extends the regular voter registration deadline by 21 days. Grace-period registrants are required to register and vote in person at a Clerk’s office location. Regular voter registration ends Oct. 9.

Cook County has 1.4 million registered voters and 1,937 precincts. According to the Clerk’s office, it is one of the largest election jurisdictions in the nation. Voting materials are provided in four languages — English, Spanish, Chinese, and Hindi — as required under the federal Voting Rights Act.