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Power outages and brush fires – an eventful Election Day at Bethel Church

By Josh Bootsma

LANSING, Ill. (November 8, 2022) – Though the long line of pre-dawn voters that braved the sub-40-degree weather outside of Bethel Church Tuesday morning was remarkable enough, Election Day at the polling place would get even more interesting as the day continued.

Bethel Church, located at 3500 Glenwood-Lansing Road, is one of three Lansing polling places to serve three or more precincts, so it is usually busy on Election Day. This Tuesday some voters waited for an hour in the afternoon to fill out their ballots.

Afternoon fire

After the usual minor morning glitches were worked out, things were generally humming along smoothly at Bethel Church as Election Day progressed.

At 12:55 p.m., however, the Lansing Fire Department got a call for a brush fire near the Lansing Airport, on the opposite side of Glenwood Lansing Road from Bethel Church.

“We don’t have an indication as to how it started,” said John Grady, Deputy Chief at the Lansing Fire Department. “This time of year, outside brush fires are pretty common, just with the lack of rain that we’ve had, temperatures are pretty moderate, and the increased wind.”

The larger fire engine that would usually respond to such a call was in Calumet City assisting with another incident. So the Lansing Fire Department dispatched a smaller truck, one with a smaller water tank.

Election Day
Firefighters quickly address a small brush fire across the street from Bethel Church on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo: Connie Simon)

Not wanting to run out of water, firefighters ran a hose across the street to the nearest fire hydrant, located directly in front of one of Bethel Church’s main driveways. For roughly half an hour starting around 1 p.m., Glenwood Lansing Road was blocked off near Bethel Church as firefighters took care of the small brush fire, leaving some residents to wonder about the flashing lights surrounding Bethel Church on Election Day.

By 1:45, the firetrucks had left and Lansing’s Public Works Department was working to correctly reassemble the fire hydrant.

“Go figure, on Election Day, we have a call right in front of the polling place,” Grady said. “It appears to have been a natural cause or completely accidental. … There was nothing untoward regarding the polling place.”

election day
Many cars sat in the parking lot of Bethel Church Tuesday afternoon as voters made their choices. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Power outage

Around the same time that Lansing firefighters were arriving across the street, the power went out at Bethel Church.

With many voters opting to cast their ballots electronically, the outage caused problems for election judges, who quickly pivoted to provide voters with paper ballots.

“The church was on auxiliary power, and we got the call from the higher-ups that we needed to go all paper,” said Connie Simon, an election judge for Precinct 5.

election day
Many voters at Bethel Church had to use paper ballots due to a power outage. (Photo: Josh Bootsma)

Residents voted using pen and paper under the dimmed lights of Bethel Church for roughly two hours before the power came back on around 3 p.m. During that time, many paper ballots were placed in a designated slot in the large election apparatus, to be counted later.

“I was very highly suspect,” admitted Simon when talking about the influx of paper ballots being counted properly. “However, I’m glad I was an election judge because we took those paper ballots, and when the polls closed, one of the poll workers went right over there, and they started putting them in one by one. Every single ballot that was in there went through the scanner. Every single one.”

The good among the challenging

Though Election Day at Bethel Church had its share of coincidental challenges, Simon said the day was overall a success, with election judges rising to meet the challenge and voters generally adopting a posture of patience.

Simon did note that more poll workers would have made her job easier, especially when dealing with older residents who are slower and may need help reading their ballots.

Simon’s shift as an election judge allowed her to witness some unique events:

  • A new American citizen voted for the first time
  • Several young people cast their first ballots as 18-year-olds
  • A family brought their “future voter” daughter to the polls to learn about the democratic process
election day
The Reid family brought their “future voter” along for her to witness the democratic process in action. (Photo: Connie Simon)

“We had some huge obstacles, and everyone took their turn and understood. It was wonderful,” Simon said after a long day at the polls. “I’m very proud of our community. Very proud.”

Bethel Church is located at 3500 Glenwood-Lansing Road.

For the Suburban Cook County results of the November 8 Gubernatorial Election, visit cookcountyclerkil.gov.

Josh Bootsma
Josh Bootsma
Josh is Managing Editor at The Lansing Journal and believes in the power and purpose of community news. He covers any local topics—from village government to theatre, from business openings to migratory birds.