POLITICS

Confusion And Delay Plague Illinois Primary As States Shutter Due To Coronavirus

Several polling sites were relocated or shut down as Illinois conducted its vote amid the pandemic.
An election official cleaned a voting machine in Chicago as Illinois proceeded with its presidential primary on Tuesday.
An election official cleaned a voting machine in Chicago as Illinois proceeded with its presidential primary on Tuesday.

In-person voting in Illinois was marred by occasional complications and disruptions on Tuesday as the state proceeded with its presidential primary amid the spread of the coronavirus that has prompted shutdowns of schools, restaurants and other workplaces across the U.S.

The decision to go ahead with the long-scheduled vote posed a variety of challenges and hurdles. Local officials moved precinct locations to public buildings and away from senior homes and community centers to minimize the number of people who would be close to a polling place. In Chicago, that meant relocating 200 of the city’s roughly 2,000 precincts.

With elderly people considered especially vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus, officials also were faced with a deluge of resignations by older election judges. 

It didn’t take long for officials with the Chicago Elections Board to note that concerns about the pandemic would severely depress voter turnout. Despite this being a presidential election cycle that typically spurs the most enthusiasm among voters, the board reported only about 10,000 ballots cast in the first hour of voting — typically a pre-work rush hour.

“I would call conducting an election in the middle of a global pandemic, where people are scared to show up to a polling place, a curse,” Jim Allen, spokesperson for the Chicago Elections Board, said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning.

Chicago election commissioners last week asked the office of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) to either postpone the primary or cancel in-person voting and move to vote-by-mail only. That request was denied.

By contrast, Ohio’s Tuesday primary was canceled at the behest of Gov. Mike DeWine (R). But Florida and Arizona joined Illinois in proceeding with scheduled primaries.

In Florida, several polling stations didn’t open because workers didn’t show up for duty and in Arizona, 80 polling stations were preemptively shuttered after polling workers canceled their shifts.

In Illinois, one poll worker at a Chicago precinct tweeted about a number of glitches at her locale. The worker, who identified herself as Rebecca Gross, said missing items included a box containing voting machines and ballots. 

She told HuffPost that election officials instructed poll workers dealing with the problems to redirect voters to a police station serving as a voting precinct.

She noted that this was hardly an ideal alternative. “There are workers who are coming to vote early in the morning who don’t have the time to go vote at a precinct that’s about a mile away,” Gross said. “It’s really kind of unreasonable for many of these working voters to go vote outside of the precinct.”

Another Twitter user claiming to be a supporter of the presidential bid by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign said large crowds were gathered at a public library, waiting hours to vote. 

Timna Axel, communications director for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said while some confusion typically surrounds the voting process, the various measures taken and warnings issued about the coronavirus piled on additional complications on Tuesday.

Her group operates a voting rights hotline on election days, and Axel said “it seems like a lot of the confusion and the delay is because of these last-minute relocations and last-minute substitutions by election judges.”

She added, “I don’t think we’d see anything like this in a normal election.”

Last week, Chicago election commissioners asked the office of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) to either postpone the primary or cancel in-person voting and move to vote-by-mail only. That request was denied.

In Florida, several polling stations didn’t open because workers didn’t show up for duty. In Arizona, 80 polling stations were preemptively shuttered after polling workers canceled their shifts.

Keep up with the latest updates on the coronavirus at our live blog.

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