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As voting gets off to shaky start in Chicago, officials blame Pritzker for not postponing election

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 3/17/2020 By Javonte Anderson, Chicago Tribune
Election judge Sharon Ryan sanitizes voting cards at polling place at Byrne School on March 17, 2020. © Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Election judge Sharon Ryan sanitizes voting cards at polling place at Byrne School on March 17, 2020.

As voting got off to a shaky start in Chicago on Tuesday, local and state officials bitterly sparred over whether the election should have been postponed because of problems created by the coronavirus outbreak.

“We were urging the postponement of the election ... and a conversion to vote by mail for the safety of the voting public,” Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen complained after numerous polling places reported problems with equipment because they had changed locations at the last minute.

a room filled with furniture and a fire place: Voters at polling place for 21st and 16th precincts at Byrne School in the 23rd Ward in Chicago on March 17, 2020. © Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Voters at polling place for 21st and 16th precincts at Byrne School in the 23rd Ward in Chicago on March 17, 2020.

“It was a snowball we could all see coming down the hill,” he told reporters in a conference call.

A spokeswoman for Gov. J.B. Pritzker shot back that the state offered help, including National Guard troops and volunteers, but the city declined.

“The governor’s office offered to provide the National Guard to help staff the election, and we also worked to recruit volunteers, said spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh. "Two thousand young people from the Mikva Challenge were turned away from volunteering because the board wouldn’t reduce red tape.

a hand holding a cellphone: Colin McDonough puts on a voting receipt bracelet after casting his primary election ballot at a 33rd Ward polling place in the 2500 block of West Diversey Avenue on March 17, 2020, in Chicago. © John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Colin McDonough puts on a voting receipt bracelet after casting his primary election ballot at a 33rd Ward polling place in the 2500 block of West Diversey Avenue on March 17, 2020, in Chicago.

“So instead of accepting help or offering any solutions of their own, the Chicago Board of Elections decided to wait until Election Day to get on a call with press and make politically charged accusations," she added. “The governor cannot unilaterally cancel or delay an election. ... No one is saying this is a perfect solution. We have no perfect solutions at the moment. We only have least bad solutions.”

a person standing next to a suitcase: Election judge Jimmy Felton handles information as Rebecca Singer, 50, casts her vote at Orozco Community Academy school in Chicago. Singer stated she just came during a morning jog to avoid the crowds. © Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Election judge Jimmy Felton handles information as Rebecca Singer, 50, casts her vote at Orozco Community Academy school in Chicago. Singer stated she just came during a morning jog to avoid the crowds.

Allen reported “extremely low turnout” in the first two hours that polls opened. There were only 10,500 votes cast by 7 a.m. and 14,400 votes in the second hour, he said.

City election officials suspected the low voter turnout was the result of people staying at home and following the directives of public health officials amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Precautions also prompted the election board to change more than 200 polling places in the last week. Relocating election materials to new sites was the “biggest issue of the morning,” but 90% of election sites were running, Allen said.

There were also concerns about lack of sanitation at voting sites. Allen said each polling location was provided a container of hand sanitizer and wipes for the screens. He added that more resources were given to early voting sites where there were more touch screens.

“We did the best we could,” he said. “We certainly had no idea when we were making these purchasing moves ... there would be a global pandemic.”

Anticipating problems, Allen said the election board spoke with Pritzker’s staff on March 11. “At the time we predicted that there would be fear among voters, that there would be legitimate concerns among our poll workers, and that we would lose polling places,” he said.

a man riding a skateboard down a sidewalk: People waiting in line to vote practice social distancing at the 19th district Chicago police station polling place on March 17, 2020. © Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS People waiting in line to vote practice social distancing at the 19th district Chicago police station polling place on March 17, 2020.

Allen sharply disagreed with Pritzker’s decision not to postpone or modify the primary election. “There’s nothing nothing magical about March 17 unless you’re St. Patrick. No one was going to get elected today. These were nominations.”

a group of people walking down the street: Brian Burns, Democratic primary candidate for 5th Congressional District, asks people waiting in line to vote to spread out and practice social distancing at the 19th district Chicago police station polling place on March 17, 2020. © Erin Hooley / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Brian Burns, Democratic primary candidate for 5th Congressional District, asks people waiting in line to vote to spread out and practice social distancing at the 19th district Chicago police station polling place on March 17, 2020.

Abudayyeh, with the governor’s office, accused Allen of playing politics with the voting problems.

a man holding a laptop: Voter Vickie Jones, 61, left, and Latisha Hollis, 42, center, sign in to vote at a polling place at the Thurgood Marshall Branch of the Chicago Public Library in 17th Ward. © Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS Voter Vickie Jones, 61, left, and Latisha Hollis, 42, center, sign in to vote at a polling place at the Thurgood Marshall Branch of the Chicago Public Library in 17th Ward.

“What’s concerning is that the board has time to play politics instead of doing their job,” she said. "Instead of hosting a press call to pass on the blame for their failures, we would urge the Chicago Board of Elections to focus on ensuring our democracy can continue as uninterrupted as possible by troubleshooting the issues at the polls.”

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©2020 the Chicago Tribune

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J.B. Pritzker et al. posing for the camera: Gov. J.B. Pritzker holds a news conference at the Thompson Center in Chicago on March 9, 2020, to give an update on the COVID-19 situation in Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker holds a news conference at the Thompson Center in Chicago on March 9, 2020, to give an update on the COVID-19 situation in Illinois.
© Terrence Antonio James / Chicago Tribune/Chicago Tribune/TNS
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