Wash, dry, vote
Paul Hansen opened his laundromat, Su Nueva Lavanderia (above), on Marquette Road on Chicago’s South Side nine years ago. Not long after that — he remembers it being just a few weeks — the district’s alderman asked Hansen whether he’d be interested in cordoning off a piece of his 5,000-square-foot store come Election Day so that people in the neighborhood could vote there. It wasn’t so much the call of civic duty that made Hansen say yes: “To be honest, I thought it’d just be good to get people into the place.”
A month passed, and the first Tuesday in November arrived. At 5 a.m., just as the Lavanderia opened, election judges came to set up long plastic tables and five voting booths. Hansen gave up an aisle of dryers that day because, he says, the washers make more money. By 9 p.m., three hours before the laundromat’s usual close, the judges finished counting the ballots, folded up the tables, and left. The city paid Hansen $150. Su Nueva Lavanderia has been a voting site ever since and will be again on Nov. 6, as will a bowling alley, a pool hall, a pet-care store, and several car dealerships in the Windy City.
Chicago isn’t alone. In Philadelphia a skating rink, a barbershop, a bakery, and an auto repair stand in for polling places; in Los Angeles some voters use lifeguard stands. There are rules, of course, as to what sort of commercial establishment may be a polling place. The space must be well lit and wheelchair accessible, it can’t serve alcohol, and it can’t give away anything of value to voters. James Allen, at the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, has a favorite polling place — Hot Doug’s, a hot dog stand on the North Side. “You’ve got the scent of steaming Vienna beef wafting through,” he says. “I bet a few voters get a dog. But this is Chicago, so hold the ketchup.”