Cook County Jail Detainees Go to the Polls for the First Time

Notes from the 3/10/2020 issue

Cook County Jail detainees go to the polls for the first time

Up to 20,000 pretrial detainees in Illinois jails are eligible to vote in the primary elections, thanks to a new law signed by governor J.B. Pritzker last year. Jail inmates had already been able to vote by mail, but historically, few have taken advantage of that process. Inmates awaiting trial in Cook County can now register and cast a ballot, with the jail effectively functioning as its own polling precinct supervised by the Chicago Board of Elections, the Cook County Clerk’s Office and the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. With a popular presidential campaign and the State’s Attorney race on the line, officials and advocates expect a surge in participation from incarcerated voters.

Chicago Democrats split over presidential nominee

On Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot endorsed Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary, joining Secretary of State Jesse White, Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, six Illinois congresspeople, and a host of Chicago aldermen, state representatives, and suburban mayors. The next day, 4th District congressman Jesús “Chuy” Garcia broke with his colleagues to stand alongside Bernie Sanders in a crowded Grant Park, adding the weight of his political career to a movement already backed by ten progressive aldermen and still more state representatives. In 1988, Sanders was one of only a handful of white politicians to endorse the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential bid; the day after Sanders’s rally last week, Jackson returned the favor, joining Sanders for a rally in Michigan. The fault line in the Democratic primary generally, if not always perfectly, maps on to the progressive-establishment fault lines in city politics. The CTU is officially neutral in the race, but president Jesse Sharkey and vice president Stacy Davis Gates personally back Sanders. On the sidelines still: Toni Preckwinkle and Gov. Pritzker. 

CPS to decolonize Columbus Day

Chicago Public Schools voted in February to give students the second Monday of October off to observe Indigenous Peoples Day, replacing Columbus Day. The decision comes on the heels of similar changes across the country, seeking to center the lives and legacies of Native peoples who lived on the continent before colonialism and genocide decimated countless tribes. The name change was met with ire from the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans and 38th Ward Alderman Nicholas Sposato, one of two Italian American City Council members, alleging that CPS didn’t follow the requirements of the Open Meetings Act, which states “that [Illinois] citizens shall be given advance notice of and the right to attend all meetings at which any business of a public body is discussed or acted upon in any way.” CPS insists the meeting complied with the law and that the vote was legal. At the core is the national debate over characterizing Columbus’s legacy: murderous rapist or daring explorer lost at sea? Mayor Lori Lightfoot says the city will continue to recognize the holiday as-is, despite a proposed ordinance in City Council and the decision of numerous other cities and states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, that have moved to “decolonize” the day.

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