Illinois primary updates: Some polling places turn away voters amid ‘extremely low’ turnout; governor’s office and Chicago Board of Elections lock horns

Days before Election Day, efforts to contain the virus escalated in Illinois with the announcement of schools temporarily shuttering and restaurants shifting to only take out or delivery services. A spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said city election officials asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker to call off in-person voting but the governor declined. The governor’s office issued a statement Tuesday mid-morning blasting the board.

The Board of Elections and the Cook County Clerk has scrambled to find new election judges after many opted out of the role because of COVID-19. About 850 election judges, or about 10% of the people who had signed up for the role, told Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough’s office they wouldn’t show up for Election Day. On Monday, Chicago election officials anticipated a serious shortage of workers at city polls. Officials called on the young and healthy to fill in the gaps, and it’s possible an election judge could be sworn in on the spot.

The pandemic had already caused the Chicago Board of Elections to relocate at least 50 polling places that had been previously scheduled to take place at nursing homes. And Chicago broke a World War II-era record for vote-by-mail applications, with 118,000 voters requesting ballots to vote from home, the board of elections announced Sunday.

The primary elections will determine the major party nominees to appear on the ballot in November for various offices, including president, U.S. senator and U.S. representative, as well as judicial and statehouse candidates.

Here’s the latest news on Election Day as voters across the city still showed up to vote Tuesday:

2:40 p.m.: Chicago turnout midday down more than 50 percent for Election Day from 4 years ago

Voter turnout in Chicago was 126,499 through 1 p.m., said Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen.

This year’s voter turnout is significantly lower than it was during the 2016 primary election when Chicago had about 300,000 votes by midday, Allen said.

But this year’s election this had record-setting early voting numbers. This year’s estimated 290,000 pre-election ballots far exceeded the 191,000 registered in 2016.

Allen also reacted to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s chief of staff calling Allen’s claim the board sought a delay and an all mail-in election “a lie.”

Allen acknowledged that the governor offered National Guard support for the election, but he said they had to consider “how voters might perceive that.”

Allen said he didn’t want to argue back and forth with Pritzker’s chief of staff after she accused him of lying on Twitter.

Allen said that: “We know what was said at that meeting, and they know what was said at that meeting, and we’ll leave it at that.”

“There’s never been an election before where we had to move around 200 precincts,” Allen said. “And I hope to God there never is again.” — Javonte Anderson and Hal Dardick 

2:26 p.m.: Suburban election workers encouraged to have people keep their distance

As voters weighed whether to go to the polls and risk catching COVID-19, the Cook County Clerk’s office said it was suggesting poll workers mark the floor to coax people to practice social distancing.

“The Clerk’s Office encourages #ElectionDay pollworkers to #MarkTheFloor in 6 foot increments with their blue painter’s tape to remind voters to practice social distancing,” Clerk Karen Yarbrough said in a tweet that featured a photo of blue tape, a tape measure and a note about marking the floor. “It is our job to ensure the safety of those around us while we carry out our civic duty today.” — Chicago Tribune staff

2:15 p.m.: As voting gets off to shaky start in Chicago, officials blame Pritzker for not postponing election

As voting got off to a shaky start in Chicago Tuesday, local and state officials bitterly sparred over whether the election should have been postposed 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.

“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. — Javonte Anderson

2: 13 p.m.: Gresham polling place crowded after precinct added because of coronavirus-related relocation

A crowd of people waited Tuesday afternoon outside the polling location at the Thurgood Marshall Public Library in the city’s Gresham neighborhood.

“It’s like chaos in there,” said Isaac Anderson Jr., as he walked out of the library, 7506 S. Racine Ave.

Anderson, 79, estimated it took him an hour and a half to be able to cast his ballot. He and other voters said the polling location was dealing with voters who had been previously been scheduled to vote at a senior citizen facility.

Sharon Webster, the administrator at the polling location, said they were fully staffed, but they had only received eight voting machines and didn’t have enough room to work.

“They are all coming here,” Webster said, as she tried to get the information from a voter in the bustling polling location.

By 1:30 p.m., Webster estimated 200 people had already cast their ballots at the polling location. On Monday, the location had about 400 early voters, she said.

Just before 2 p.m. about 20 people waited in the lobby of the library, waiting for their name to get called into the polling location. A few people wore masks and some election workers wore gloves on their hands. Workers and library staff yelled out voters name when it was their turn to enter the polling location.

“Don’t leave, don’t get discouraged,” one worker told people in the crowd while searching for a voter.

Shaquita Newell, 38, was among those waiting to cast a ballot at the location. She had been waiting for about 15 minutes in the lobby. She said the polling location is always busy and serves many elderly residents. But she felt it was important to stick out the wait.

“Our community gets the short end of the stick all the time,” Newell said.

She said the polling place abruptly changed locations in past elections also, and she suspected older voters who aren’t computer savvy could be causing longer delays.

Despite fears of the coronavirus and officials warning against crowds, Newell said she was more concerned with casting her ballot.

“I’m more concerned with the election than the coronavirus,” Newell said. “It has a big effect on my life.” — Elvia Malagón

2:08 p.m.: Many polling places relocated across state, Will County polls open on time

Election officials in Illinois scrambled to find alternate locations as nursing homes and other typical polling sites backed out amid concern over the coronavirus. There were signs of confusion about the changes on Tuesday morning.

Timna Axel, director of communications for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said voters have been calling the group’s hotline all morning to get help finding their polling places.

The steady flow of calls — including from some polling place workers — is “unusual for a primary,” Axel said.

“We all understand that these are really unusual circumstances and we all want eligible voters not to be disenfranchised,” Axel said. “We’re going to need to work together to make sure they can actually cast a ballot today.”

In suburban Will County, all polling places opened on time and were staffed thanks to people who volunteered to fill the spots of election judges who decided against working. Charles Pelkie, chief of staff for the county clerk, said at least 200 judges had canceled by Monday.

“We’ve been very fortunate that the public is stepping up,” he said. — Associated Press

1:50 p.m.: Hyde Park polling place opens six hours late, draws lunchtime crowd

An East Hyde Park polling location started accepting voters six hours after polls opened on Election Day.

The polling location inside the residential building at 1700 E. 76th St., did not get the correct ballots until 12:30 p.m., according to election workers.

A stream of voters cast their ballots during lunchtime. — Elvia Malagón

1:10 p.m.: Low turnout so far in suburbs, but number voting going up each hour

For suburban Cook County, about 68,400 voters hit the polls as of noon., according to unofficial voting turnout information.

While the voting numbers are lackluster, Clerk spokesman James Scalzitti said it was too early to tell how much lower they were compared to past presidential primaries.

About 68% of voters so far were older than 50 years old, and roughly 19% of voters were under 40. During past elections, younger voters’ turnout increased later in the day, Scalzitti said. But it’s unclear if that trend will hold today with the coronavirus outbreak.

Thus far, however, voting numbers in suburban Cook County have increased every hour:

  • 6-7 a.m.: 5,910
  • 7-8 a.m.: 8,465
  • 8-9 a.m.: 10,019
  • 9-10 a.m.: 12,129

12:20 p.m.: Barrington-area polling place openings delayed after election workers fail to show up

Early morning glitches delayed the opening Tuesday of two Barrington polling places and created technical issues at four others, according to a spokesman for the Cook County Clerk’s office.

The polling location at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington still had not opened as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday while the one at Barrington Village Hall opened by 9:30 a.m. Polls had been scheduled to open at 6 a.m.

James Scalzitti, the director of communications for the Cook County Clerk, said in an email that polling places at the church and Barrington Village Hall did not open as scheduled because election judges did not arrive to open the locations. — Steve Sadin

11:58 a.m.: Illinois governor’s office blasts Chicago Board of Elections

After Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said city election officials asked Gov. Pritzker to call off in-person voting but the governor declined, Jordan Abudayyeh, the governor’s spokeswoman, issued a harshly worded statement saying the board had failed to accept help from the state.

“Last week, the Chicago Board of Elections held a call with the Governor’s office, the House Speaker and the Senate President where they voiced concern about having enough election judges,” the statement read in part. “The Governor’s Office offered to provide the National Guard to help staff the election and we also worked to recruit volunteers. 2000 young people from the Mikva Challenge were turned away from volunteering because the board wouldn’t reduce red tape. 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.”

“The Governor cannot unilaterally cancel or delay an election. Elections are the cornerstone of our democracy and we could not risk confusion and disenfranchisement in the courts. No one is saying this is a perfect solution. We have no perfect solutions at the moment. We only have least bad solutions.

“What’s concerning is that the board has time to play politics instead of doing their job. 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.”

The media call included Allen’s statements about asking the governor call off in-person voting, but mostly was about the voting situation Tuesday morning in Chicago.

“This administration and the Governor are focused on our critical health needs around the state today,” Abudayyeh said. “The Chicago Board of Elections should find a way to do their job.” — Javonte Anderson

11:40 a.m.: After city changes more than 200 polling places, voter turnout has been ‘extremely low’ in Chicago so far

Chicago had “extremely low turnout” in the first two hours after polls opened, Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said.

There were only 10,500 votes by 6 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 are staying at home and following the directives of public health officials amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The Board of Elections had to change more than 200 polling places in the last week because of coronavirus concerns, Allen said.

Relocating election materials to new sites was the “biggest issue of the morning,” but 90% of election sites were running by about 9:30 a.m., morning, Allen said.

Regarding concerns about lack of sanitation material at some 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.” —Javonte Anderson

11:40 a.m.: ‘I’m not afraid. This is the most sacred right we have. I have faith in my doctors.’

In East Hyde Park, poll workers have been trying to get Chicago election officials to deliver the correct ballots for the precinct to begin voting.

Just before 11 a.m., poll workers at 5480 S. Cornell Ave. were turning away voters, advising them to go to Jackson Park to cast their ballot. Workers estimate 50 people were turned away in the first five hours of voting.

“Are you not ready yet?” one woman asked the group of six workers. They had set up the polling location, but still had not heard if the correct materials would be delivered to the precinct by the end of the day.

Ca Lofton, one of the election judges, said materials from a different precinct were delivered to the polling location last week. They have no idea where their precinct’s ballots are located.

The poll workers started calling city election officials Monday. but as of Tuesday morning they had not gotten an answer about when or if the correct materials would be delivered, Lofton said.

“Everything is busy,” Lofton said. “We are hopeful they will get us the proper equipment before 7 p.m. so no one will be disenfranchised.”

Lofton said they were staffed enough and prepared to handle voters, though three of their judges decided not to come Tuesday. As for Lofton, 76, she wasn’t going to let the coronavirus stop her from participating in Election Day, noting she lived through the polio epidemic and the civil rights era.

“I’m not afraid,” she said. “This is the most sacred right we have. I have faith in my doctors.” —Elvia Malagón

10:55 a.m.: DuPage Co. restocking polling places with hand sanitizer, other supplies as votes trickle in

As votes trickled in Tuesday morning and voters had to visit relocated polling places, a county team of 25 people was visiting DuPage County polling places to ensure they remained stocked with cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, according to a release from the county clerk’s office.

The county relocated 17 polling places to the DuPage County Fairgrounds, 2015 Manchester Road in Wheaton.

As of 8 a.m., no other polling places were closed Tuesday, according to the clerk’s office.

Voters who need can call the clerk’s Election Division office at 630-407-5600. —Chicago Tribune staff

10:40 a.m.: With hand sanitizer and determination, South Side voters make their way to the polls: ‘Too many folks died for this’

Armed with hand sanitizer in her pocket, Artricia Cole stopped by Jackson Park Tuesday morning to cast her ballot.

“Don’t get too close,” Cole, 67, told a Tribune reporter.

Cole’s original polling place in the building where she lives was closed, but she was able to get a ride to Jackson Park. She didn’t want to reveal who she voted for, but she was particularly interested in the Cook County state’s attorney’s race because of how much sway the office carries.

“I came out to vote,” Cole said. “Too many folks died for this and you’re giving it up because you’re afraid of getting sick? No.”

Like Cole, Minnie Christmas voted at Jackson Park after the polling location at her senior citizen building was closed as officials try to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Christmas wore a face mask as a precaution.

“I’ve been voting all my life,” Christmas said. “I’m here doing what I’m supposed to do.”

At a polling place at 6401 S. Stony Island Ave. on the South Side, there was a steady stream of voters through the morning. The hallway leading to the poll was decorated with images of Martin Luther King Jr., Ida B. Wells and Nelson Mandela.

Norm Davis, 41, stopped by to vote with his mother. He considers himself healthy and was not too worried about the coronavirus. Still, he thought President Trump’s response to the virus came too late, and it’s one the reasons why he thought the presidential race was so important this time around.

“For the past four years, our leadership was in lack of success, in my view,” Davis said. —Elvia Malagón

10:35 a.m.: Uptown polling place still without equipment at 10 a.m.

Carolyn Stoner, election coordinator at a polling location at McCutcheon Elementary School, 4865 N. Sheridan Road in Uptown, said the polling place hadn’t received any voting materials as of 10 a.m. She estimates she has turned away around 40 people. She is keeping a tally on a Manila folder.

Patrick Donahue, a Republican election judge, said he had been at the location since 5 a.m. and two of the other judges and the election coordinator have been making calls to the Board of Elections asking for where the materials are.

“We have a set of numbers and they’ve called every single one,” he said. “They keep saying it’s on the way.”

Donahue said he’s guided people to go vote at Truman College or to come back later.

A woman identifying herself as the principal of McCutcheon, which is named after Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Tribune cartoonist John T. McCutcheon, told a reporter and a photographer that they could not remain in the school, which is closed and only serving as a polling place, after they had been there about 5 minutes. —Jessica Villagomez

10:20 a.m.: City turnout ‘extremely low’ so far; Pritzker rejected Chicago election officials’ request to call off in-person voting

Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen said city election officials asked Gov. J.B. Pritzker to call off in-person voting but the governor declined.

Allen said board of election officials spoke with the governor’s staff last week hours after health authorities declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.

“We were urging the postponement of the election, the abandonment of the polling place model of voting and a conversion to vote by mail for the safety of the voting public,” Allen said.

Turnout so far Tuesday has been “extremely low,” Allen said about 9:30 a.m.

“Other states are postponing. Ohio, Georgia and Louisiana are postponing. They don’t have seniors tweeting and posting comments about being fearful of going into polling places or serving on election day…It was a snowball we could all see coming down the hill.” —Javonte Anderson and Gregory Pratt

10:15 a.m.: To vote, South Side woman drives almost 2 miles from polling place closed because of lack materials

Judith Everly walked to her polling location early Tuesday on the city’s South Side only to find out workers didn’t have the materials needed to open up the location.

“It’s six people sitting there,” Everly said, of her original polling place in the 5400 block of South Cornell Avenue.

Everly drove to the Jackson Park Fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave., where she was able to cast her ballot just after 9 a.m.

“It’s my right,” the 70-year-old said about voting. “It’s my civic duty.”

Jackson Park has served as one of the city’s early voting sites that is capable of taking voters from outside the precinct. Workers estimated about 60 people had cast ballots three hours after polls opened across the city.

Everly said she wasn’t worried about changes implemented as officials try to contain COVID-19. She was most interested in the Democratic presidential nominee.

She voted for Joe Biden, because of his experience. —Elvia Malagón

9:45 a.m.: Lincoln Park polling place among those without equipment this morning

At one Lincoln Park polling place, frustrations grew as election judges had to turn away voters. Many explained that they have yet to receive election supplies and offered voters other options.

“We have no equipment, come back by 7 p.m. or go to 2626 N Lakeview, they’ll accept a provisional ballot,” Ben Wychocki, a Democratic election judge, told a voter as he stood outside the steps of the Second Church of Christ Scientist, 2700 N. Pine Grove Ave.

The 43rd ward polling site included the 13th and 34th precincts, Wychocki said. Since starting his shift at 5 a.m. this morning, he has had to turn away 50-70 voters, he estimated.

“We have no equipment. We have been sitting around waiting for the past three and a half hours. We have called several numbers several times and are told it’s coming. I can only imagine other polling places are facing similar issues,” he said.

Currently, the polling place is telling voters to head to a nearby polling booth to fill a provisional ballot or to come back to their location before polls close at 7 p.m.

“I’ll probably go over to 2626 N Lakeview since I have to work from home,” said Beatrice Conley another voter who stopped at the polling place. ”There’s some frustrations, but voting is important and I hope it doesn’t deter people from voting completely.”

Chicago Board of Elections officials told voters they could go to their ward’s early voting site also to cast ballots if their polling place wasn’t open. —Jessica Villagomez

9:00 a.m.: Voters break coronavirus isolation ‘to pick a better president’

Election Day was the first time Leanna Rappaport left her Pilsen home since Friday.

Rappaport, 29, has not even gotten a cold this winter but has practiced social distancing as a precautionary measure to contain COVID-19. She rubbed her hands together with hand sanitizer as she stepped out of the polling location before 8 a.m. Tuesday inside Orozco Community Academy’s gym.

“I was team (Elizabeth) Warren,” she said. “I just came out of principle.”

Despite her family supporting Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential nominee, she decided to support Bernie Sanders.

“I think it’s just his general mantra that speaks to me,” she said.

Lucia Montes, 55, arrived before 8:30 a.m. to make sure she cast her ballot at Orozco Community Academy in Pilsen’s neighborhood.

“If you don’t vote, we won’t be able to pick a better president,” Montes said in Spanish.

Montes said news about the spread of COVID-19 does scare her, but she’s tried to wash her hands and stay a good distance away from people.

“I pray to God that everything turns out fine,” she said in Spanish. —Elvia Malagón

8:50 a.m.: Relocations, delivery of equipment worst issues in city Tuesday morning

Although officials were afraid a lack of judges might hinder voting, the vast majority of city polling places were open Tuesday morning. But some were delayed in opening because of issues with getting equipment to new polling places relocated because of the spread of coronavirus, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections said.

Some voters reported in social media posts that their polls had opened but voting materials weren’t available when they arrived early Tuesday, part of the largest issue that Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said was being dealt with Tuesday morning.

Relocations and “all of the last-minute deliveries from relocations that couldn’t be completed last night and that are resuming today,” were the biggest issue, Allen said in an email.

“Most all sites are up and running, though,” Allen said. —Tribune staff

8:10 a.m.: Some Cook Co. polling places open late because of lack of judges or other issues — only a few still closed by 8 a.m.

Some Cook County polling places open late because of lack of judges or other issues, only a couple still closed by 8 a.m.

As of a little before 8 a.m., one polling place in Schaumburg and one in Arlington Heights hadn’t opened to voters yet because of a lack of judges after about a dozen and half locations didn’t open on time when voting was scheduled to start at 6 a.m., according to James Scalzitti, a spokesman for the Cook County Clerk’s office.

Adlai Stevenson School, 1414 Armstrong Lane in Elk Grove Village and Clearbrook, 1835 W. Central Road in Arlington Heights, were not available for voters, according to Scalzitti. —Katherine Rosenberg-Douglas

8:05 a.m.: Voter has polling place to herself on Election Day morning

Rebecca Singer, 50, stopped by Orozco Community Academy to vote during her morning run Tuesday.

Singer wanted to vote early in the day to avoid any crowds. She used hand sanitizer when she entered the polling place and used it again as she left. About an hour and a half after polls opened, only 14 voters had cast their ballots at the poll located in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood.

While Chicago election officials worried polling locations wouldn’t have enough judges, this location had three. The commission provided some hand sanitizing materials while poll workers also brought additional supplies from home.

Singer had originally supported Elizabeth Warren’s bid for president. But since Warren’s dropped out of the Democratic race, she voted for Joe Biden. She agrees with Bernie Sanders’ views, but she thinks Biden is a less polarizing candidate.

“I think that Biden’s experience on a national level makes him a better candidate,” she said.

Singer had the polling location to herself while she voted. She thinks the low turnout might make a difference in local races such as the state’s attorney’s office. She just hopes more alternative ways to voting in person are available by the general election.

“Let’s just hope by November we can all vote,” Singer said. —Elvia Malagón

6:50 a.m.: West Side voter arrives early to keep her distance from crowds

Chelsea Cross, 26, arrived early at Orozco Community Academy armed with Vitamin C water to dodge the crowds during Election Day.

“It’s 6 a.m. and not a lot of people are out,” said Cross, who was one of the first voters at the polling location in Pilsen. “I didn’t want all the scare to stop us from exercising our democratic right.”

At Orozco, 1940 W. 18th St., hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes sat on one of the tables leading to poll workers. In the past, the polling location was inside a classroom but this time it was moved to a spacious school gym.

“We all live here,” a sign in Spanish stated inside the gym.

Cross, 26, is a second-grade teacher at a Chicago public school and on Tuesday took the same precautions she’s stressed to her students by sanitizing before coming into the building.

For Cross, one of the most important races being decided Tuesday is the Democratic presidential nomination. She voted for Bernie Sanders, because she agrees with his policies.

“He’s been on the right side of history all his life,” Cross said.

After voting, Cross planned to hunker down with her boyfriend and begin lesson planning for however long her school would be closed. —Elvia Malagón

6:07 a.m.: Looking for election judges, DuPage still taking in-person applications

As DuPage County tried to recruit election judges to fill gaps left by cancellations, the county clerk’s office said it’s no longer taking online or phone applications for the $200, one-day job, but will hire people in person at the DuPage County Clerk’s Election Division office at 421 N. County Farm Rd. The clerk started taking applications at 5 a.m.

Judges have to meet several basic qualifications, including being a citizen, being registered to vote and speaking and writing English. Election judges must work from the time they report for duty until their work is done, usually two hours after polls close at 7 a.m. For more information check the clerk’s website. — Chicago Tribune staff

6 a.m.: As polls open, fears of low turnout and poll worker shortage

Illinoisans readied for a primary Election Day like no other Tuesday, with fear of the spread of coronavirus raising concerns of low turnout and too few poll workers as government leaders exhorted healthy voters to do their part to move democracy forward at the ballot box.

With polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., the push to get people to vote came despite new federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to avoid crowds of 50 people or more.

Chicago election officials stressed safety and encouraged voters to practice social distancing, even offering alternative less-crowded voting sites. But they acknowledged a “tsunami” of calls from poll workers opting not to show up at polling places and took the unusual step of urgently asking healthy people to show up and serve as judges. Read the full story here. — Rick Pearson, Hal Dardick & Bill Ruthart

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