CHICAGO, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- Chicago-area voters cast ballots Tuesday in primary elections in the race to fill disgraced ex-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat with gun violence a key issue.
The U.S. Justice Department said it would monitor the polls to ensure Voting Rights Act compliance in the largely black and heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District that includes urban, suburban and rural voters.
Nearly half the district's voters live in the eastern part of Chicago's South Side, where some of the nation's most intense gun violence has occurred of late. The rest live in southern Cook County, eastern Will County and Kankakee County.
Most Democratic voters live in suburban Cook County, with an additional third from the South Side.
Up to 6 inches of snow, along with sleet and wind gusts up to 40 mph, were forecast for Tuesday by the National Weather Service, adding to election officials' predictions of a low voter turnout, based on early ballots for the special primaries from only about 2 percent of registered voters in the district.
Front-runners in a field of 14 Democrats vying for the primary nomination are former state Rep. Robin Kelly, former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, all Democrats.
Four Republicans are running in the Republican primary.
Tuesday's winners go on to the April 9 special general election.
The Democratic primary winner is widely expected to win the House seat.
The race originally focused on ethics after Jackson became the latest of three district representatives -- preceded by Gus Savage and Mel Reynolds -- to leave congressional office amid scandal.
Jackson, the son of civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson, resigned in November, 15 days after winning re-election, citing health issues and acknowledging he was under federal investigation.
Before his resignation, he was on medical leave for treatment for "bipolar II depression" at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.
Jackson, who served nine terms in Congress, pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to using $750,000 in campaign money to finance a lavish personal lifestyle.
Savage was found guilty by the House Ethics Committee in January 1990 of fondling a Peace Corps volunteer the year before while on an official visit to Zaire. The committee decided against disciplinary action because Savage wrote to the woman saying he "never intended to offend" her.
Savage was re-elected in 1990 and ousted in the 1992 primary by Reynolds.
Reynolds was convicted in 1995 of having sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old campaign volunteer, as well as obstruction of justice.
He spent more than two years in prison before his sentence was commuted by President Bill Clinton in 2001 just before he left office. Reynolds was also in prison at the time for unrelated federal charges involving campaign and bank fraud.
But the campaign to replace Jackson quickly moved from ethics to gun violence after Connecticut's December Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that killed 20 schoolchildren and six adult staffers.
Suddenly the Chicago-area district's own gun violence became the focus in one of the first big elections since the Newtown massacre.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Independence USA super political action committee announced Jan. 30 it would start "a significant TV ad campaign around educating Chicago voters about former Rep. Debbie Halvorson's abysmal gun safety record."
The Independence USA PAC, financed by Bloomberg, has spent more than $2.5 million to promote Kelly and attack Halvorson through TV ads and a direct-mail campaign.
It especially targeted Halvorson's "A" rating by the National Rifle Association.
Halvorson, who lost to Jackson in the 2012 primary, says she supports gun-purchase background checks and firearms registration but opposes an assault weapons ban.
A weekend survey of likely voters gave Kelly a big lead, with 37 percent, compared with 19 percent for Halvorson and 11.5 percent for Beale.
WFLD-TV, Chicago, which reported on the survey by the We Ask America firm, offered no margin of error.
A separate survey of 500 people for radio station WCKG, Elmhurst, Ill., released Monday indicated Halvorson, the only white candidate among the front-runners, was ahead of Kelly 21 percent to 17 percent.
That survey, by Victory Research, also offered no margin of error.
Kelly has her own allegations of ethical impropriety.
She was alleged by the state treasurer's chief investigator of violating ethics laws, after losing a 2010 bid for state treasurer, three years after she left the Illinois House.
The treasurer's executive inspector general alleged Kelly improperly reported time off from her taxpayer-funded job as Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias' chief of staff, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Giannoulias had announced a run for the U.S. Senate and Kelly ran to replace Giannoulias.
Executive Inspector General David Wells recommended Kelly be disciplined for the alleged timekeeping violations during her campaign, but no action was taken because she had already resigned from state government, the Tribune reported after reviewing records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
Kelly is now the Cook County chief administrative officer.
Kelly's campaign issued a statement after last week's Tribune report quoting Kelly as saying "any implication of misconduct is flat-out false" and saying she "was targeted by a politically motivated Republican witch hunt."