Gov. J.B. Pritzker: ‘We do believe the election will go on’

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media about the state’s response to COVID-19 during a press conference in the Governor’s Office in Springfield Thursday, March 5, 2020. (Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP) ORG XMIT: ILSPR102
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media about the state’s response to COVID-19 during a press conference in the Governor’s Office in Springfield Thursday, March 5, 2020. (Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP) ORG XMIT: ILSPR102 | AP Photos

Moments earlier, the Illinois State Board of Elections announced that unlike Ohio, which cancelled all in-person voting, Illinois would forge ahead. “Illinois is proceeding with plans for tomorrow’s primary as scheduled,” said Matt Dietrich, board spokesman in a written statement.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state officials said Monday that despite restaurants, bars and other businesses being ordered closed, the Illinois Primary will be held as planned.

“If we canceled these elections, when would we have them?” Pritzker asked a reporter who questioned him about postponing the primary.

“I feel good about the decision to have the election go on tomorrow,” the governor said. “We do believe it’s safe. We consulted experts and we do believe the election will go on.”

Moments earlier, the Illinois State Board of Elections announced that unlike Ohio, which cancelled all in-person voting, Illinois would forge ahead.

“Illinois is proceeding with plans for tomorrow’s primary as scheduled,” said Matt Dietrich, board spokesman in a written statement.

The reason? Dietrich said much of the voting has already been done, with Illinois seeing 504,000 early votes cast and 294,000 mail ballot sent to voters.

“At this point, there is no date in the foreseeable future when we can expect greater safety with any certainty,” Dietrich said.

The remarks came after Cook County officials made a similar announcement.

Facing an “untenable” election Tuesday, city election officials issued a plea to “anyone under 60 and healthy” to be an election judge as the agency braces for a potential shortage and state election officials say it’s too late to cancel.

“We are bracing for the most difficult election under the most trying of circumstances,” Marisel Hernandez, the chair of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said, noting that the last time the city had to face such difficult conditions was 102 years ago.

“If you are healthy and people and find your precinct to be understaffed and overburdened, you are welcome and encouraged to offer to be sworn in as a substitute judge to help the election run smoothly in that precinct.”

Hernandez directed people to the city’s website to find out how to become an election judge, a position that pays $170 for the day.

There’s been “a torrent, a tsunami” of calls Monday from judges who’ve signed up but had to resign.

City officials didn’t give an exact number of poll workers lost, but, after talking with other jurisdictions, like Michigan, there were some judges who didn’t show up on the day of the primary before the coronavirus became a pandemic.

“We are in an untenable position at this point,” Hernandez said. “And we fully understand and refuse to punish the judges whose age or health condition might prevent them from showing up tomorrow.”

Asked if the board could successfully have an election tomorrow, Hernandez said the city’s electoral authority were the “foot soldiers” of the election and if the governor decides to do otherwise the city will follow those orders.

Jim Allen, a spokesman for the board of election commissioners, said election officials across the state are in a “catch-22” and said proceeding with the election was “not our call, this is people higher up, and I think you can tell that we’ve expressed concerns” but will proceed because the board has been ordered to do so.

“We are on orders to conduct an election, end of story, period,” Allen said. “If we say anything now to raise doubts about whether tomorrow is Election Day, we’d stand accused of violating the law and undermining turnout and discouraging voters from exercising their right to vote.”

Last week Hernandez and others urged people to vote early or vote by mail. People seem to have heeded that call — 12,000 people had voted early Monday by around 2 p.m. and the city has already received 30,000 plus mail ballots. Through yesterday, 138,974 people had voted early.

“We have never been in this kind of situation before,” Hernandez said. “We would like to have a successful election and full participation, but we need your help and, likewise, we need your patience tomorrow. So if a polling place doesn’t open up at 6 a.m. when it’s supposed to, if there are people still setting up please be patient.”

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March 16, 2020 at 03:37PM

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