Updated: 1:24 p.m.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker pledged that Illinois’ primary election will proceed as planned on Tuesday, even as Chicago election authorities encouraged residents to vote early Sunday and Monday because of worries over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re gonna go ahead with it,” Pritzker said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, when asked about whether Illinois would cancel the upcoming primary, as states like Louisiana and Georgia have due to the pandemic.
Jim Allen, spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections, said at a Sunday morning press conference that the board did discuss alternatives, like setting up an extremely large polling site at McCormick Place .But he said that became “untenable with the recommendations of health experts.”
“We’re moving full speed ahead March 17,” Allen reiterated.
Pritzker said the state has lengthened early-voting hours and said poll workers “will be practicing good hygiene” to lessen the risks of contracting or transmitting the COVID-19 virus as thousands of voters cast their ballots.
Meanwhile, Chicago Board of Elections Chairwoman Marisel Hernandez said Sunday that roughly 8 percent of the 2,069 city precincts are being moved because their hosts have notified the board they no longer want to allow streams of outsiders into their buildings.
As of Sunday morning, that means nearly 170 precincts did not have a polling place set for Tuesday’s election. Hernandez said it’s possible more sites could back out in the next 48 hours as additional cases of COVID-19 are confirmed.
“Election Day is the biggest challenge we face right now,” she said. “We are working day and night with the city of Chicago to replace more than 160 polling places with every available government space that is suitable for a polling place on Tuesday. We’re hoping – but cannot know – if there might be further location cancellations.”
The 168 affected polling places are privately owned, election officials said. That means polling places such as schools, libraries and park district buildings would still be open.
Before doing in-person voting, Hernandez recommended that Chicago residents go online to her agency’s website, click on the “Your Voter Information” tab and then enter their address either Sunday night or Monday to see if their polling places have changed. As of mid-morning Sunday, the Chicago elections site appeared to have technical issues, but a spokesman said the site should be updated by Midnight Sunday.
Those without computers or online access can call the board at (312) 269-7900 for help in confirming their polling places.
Election officials also encourgaed in-person voters to practice “social distancing” guidelines, including leaving space between each other in voting lines and taking advantage of hand sanitizer at polling places. Allen said voters are allowed to bring their own pen to mark the paper ballot. He emphasized it must be a “Sharpie or felt tip pen, not a ballpoint pen.”
Additionally, Hernandez said there has been a “slightly above-average number” of election judges who have called to say they don’t want to serve as judges on election day, leaving a potential shortage of judges Tuesday if her agency and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office can’t muster up replacements.
There are always a number of judges who don’t show up on election day, but Hernandez said this year that number will be exacerbated.
Hernandez recommended that Chicagoans consider voting early and taking advantage of extended voting hours. On Sunday, locations set up for early voting will be open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. On Monday, those polling places will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In a statement Saturday afternoon, the board said these early voting sites were less crowded:
Gage Park, 2411 W 55th St; Eckhart Park, 1330 W Chicago; NEIU-ElCentro, 3390 N Avondale; Toman Library, 2708 S Pulaski; St Agatha, 3147 W Douglas Blvd; NW Retail Space, 321 N Clark; Kilbourn Park, 3501 N Kilbourn; Chinatown Library, 2100 S Wentworth; Portage Cragin Library, 5108 W Belmont; and Lindblom Park, 6054 S Damen
Allen says both early voting and vote-by-mail, which must be postmarked by March 17, are up over four years ago. Voting by mail has more than tripled.
Meanwhile, voters are encouraged to check their local election authorities regulalry for updated polling place information and other changes related to COVID-19. Here are links to relevant sites for voters in the City of Chicago, suburban Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, Will County, Lake County and McHenry County.