Poll Watching Findings: Suburban Cook County and Chicago



Grace Pai (Executive Director), Asian Americans Advancing Justice l Chicago
(224) 289-5291, gpai@advancingjustice-chicago.org 

Poll Watching Findings: Suburban Cook County struggles with bilingual judge recruitment, while Chicago implements new signage to highlight language access

CHICAGO, IL — March 19, 2024 – During today’s presidential primary election, poll watchers from Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago (Advancing Justice | Chicago) visited 223 polling places across Cook County to monitor compliance with language and disability access requirements. In total, 36 poll watchers surveyed 106 Chicago precincts and 117 suburban Cook County precincts. 

Thanks to the federal Voting Rights Act and the Cook County Voting Opportunity and Translation Equity (VOTE) Ordinance, certain precincts that have high concentrations of Asian American and limited English proficient (LEP) voters are required to provide language assistance and translated voting materials in one or more of the following Asian language groups: Chinese, South Asian (Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu), Korean, and Tagalog. These precincts are known as “designated language precincts.” 

The goal of Advancing Justice l Chicago’s poll monitoring program is to ensure that all eligible voters can cast their ballots without interference, with a special focus on language and disability access requirements. Poll watchers checked precincts for translated election materials (informational signs, ballots, and voting instructions), surveyed bilingual election judges, and observed the polling place as voters cast their ballots. On average, poll watchers spent 20 to 30 minutes at each precinct. 

In Chicago, the Chicago Board of Elections (CBOE) rolled out two new signs that highlight the availability of language access in language-designated precincts. These signs, which are pictured below, were developed in direct response to Advancing Justice | Chicago’s recommendations from 2023. Overall, poll watchers noted strong compliance with language and disability access requirements across all 106 designated language precincts in Chicago. While CBOE’s hotline was often busy, staff were helpful in identifying and addressing staffing gaps and missing materials or signage.

In contrast, poll watchers noted widespread issues with bilingual election judge recruitment across suburban Cook County. Nearly half of the designated language precincts in suburban Cook County were missing at least one bilingual election judge. However, when asked, poll workers were aware of the Cook County Clerk’s language-specific hotlines and the availability of translated ballots on the touch screen voting machines. 

Advancing Justice | Chicago’s executive director, Grace Pai, noted: “We see the impact of our advocacy and collaboration with the Chicago Board of Elections in our poll watching results. Our poll watchers observed continued improvements in bilingual election judge staffing, the availability of translated signs and voting materials, and the addition of two new signs highlighting language access. While there continues to be room for improvement, we are heartened by the progress we’ve observed and look forward to collaborating with the Cook County Clerk’s office in a similar fashion.” 

Thanks to staff and volunteer poll watchers, Advancing Justice | Chicago monitored 99 percent of the designated Asian language precincts in Chicago and 100 percent of the designated Asian language precincts in suburban Cook County. In the coming months, Advancing Justice | Chicago will publish two reports – one for Chicago and one for suburban Cook County – using data collected from the poll watching program to document our findings and make recommendations for improvement. 

Advancing Justice | Chicago thanks the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC), Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, HANA Center, South Asian American Policy and Research Institute (SAAPRI), Indo-American Center (IAC), and Alliance of Filipinos for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (AFIRE) for their collective advocacy and collaboration throughout the election cycle.  

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago builds power through collective advocacy and organizing to achieve racial equity. Learn more at advancingjustice-chicago.org.