Amitabh Agrawal has been a language specialist for Hindi-speaking people for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners for more than a decade-and-a-half.
It started in the Gold Coast, where he lived, but two years ago he was transferred to a different precinct in the 25th Ward. Since then, he hasn’t helped a single Hindi-speaking voter, though it’s not because the language isn’t spoken.
“I think most people that don’t speak English don’t vote,” he said. Others “have an accent but don’t have problems reading.”
The polling place is located in the 60607 ZIP code, where according to U.S. census data, one out of four adults speak a language other than English at home. The same was true for one out of five children from ages 5-17. This ratio is typical of Chicago overall, except that 60607 code has a greater variety of spoken languages.
It is also the most diverse polling place in terms of dual language paper ballots.
While the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners sends bilingual paper ballots to every precinct without a language designation and the electronic system in every precinct presents the ballots in four languages, the Holiday Inn Hotel at 506 W. Harrison St. is the only polling place with paper ballots in English/Spanish, English/Hindi and English/Chinese, said Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
According to the law, voters who speak those languages can have translators help them vote. The board assigns judges to act as translators as needed, according to the election judge handbook.
The 25th Ward itself contains a collection of very different communities: Pilsen, West Loop, Chinatown, South Loop, Little Italy and McKinley Park. It’s also a battleground for a number of candidates vying for the ward of disgraced Ald. Danny Solis, unexpectedly announced he would not run for re-election.
It was later learned that he allegedly wore a wire for the FBI that ensnared another powerful alderman, Ed Burke. Solis was then forced to retire from his chair atop the City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards for pushing deals through in exchange for campaign contributions, Viagra and sex acts at massage parlors.
“I was thinking about corruption and people who are qualified to make sound decisions about the city’s best interest,” Rachel Milton, who’s lived in the ward since 2014, said after casting her vote Tuesday afternoon.
The open race for his seat included: former teacher Hilario Dominguez, data scientist Troy Hernandez, University of Illinois Chicago educator Byron Sigcho-Lopez, pediatric nurse Alex Acevedo and former Chicago Public Schools principal Aida Flores.
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For more info on the 25th Ward, including voting results, visit Chi.vote, our nonpartisan guide for the Chicago municipal elections.
Tuesday’s election ended with an unpredictable and historic runoff between Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle in the mayor’s race as well as a runoff in the 25th Ward between Byron Sigcho-Lopez and Alex Acevedo, netting 29.4 percent and 22.2 percent of the vote based on the preliminary results, respectively, according to preliminary results. Despite the ward’s diversity, all of the candidates to replace Solis are Latinx.
The Illinois Attorney General’s office and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office are currently investigating claims that supporters of Sigcho-Lopez were buying votes, according to Block Club Chicago.
According to the afternoon numbers, Milton was part of a small percentage of voters who comprised what many consider to be a low turnout for such a contested election.
Zach Pagel, like Milton, was able to beat the rush because he works from home. He was also motivated by corruption.
“After seeing Solis I thought it was time for change in the ward,” he said. “Property owners can’t get crushed for [the City’s] financial troubles.”