Exasperated Chicago election officials say they urged Gov. J.B. Pritzker to postpone Tuesday’s election, close all polling places and move to mail-in balloting, but Pritzker rejected the idea.
“To come out and this moment and say there shouldn’t be gatherings of 50 or more people and even small establishments should close, even as we have to hold an election and wipe down screens, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions,” said Chicago Elections Board spokesperson Jim Allen.
On Twitter, Pritzker’s chief of staff Anne Caprara called Allen’s comments “a lie.”
This is a lie. And frankly, given what we are dealing with in this moment, I’m disgusted that Jim Allen would lie like this. We offered them the national guard, young volunteers and assistance with keeping polling places clean. Statement coming in a few minutes from our office. https://t.co/2oqLvJ8mlw
— Anne Caprara (@anacaprana) March 17, 2020
In that statement, released later Tuesday morning, Pritzker’s office defended its decision to move forward the election, saying the Chicago Board of Elections refused the help it had offered.
“The Governor’s Office offered to provide the National Guard to help staff the election and we also worked to recruit volunteers. 2,000 young people from the Mikva Challenge were turned away from volunteering because the board wouldn’t reduce red tape,” press secretary Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement. “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.”
On Monday, Allen and Election Board Chairman Marisel Hernandez called the situation “untenable,” as election judges dropped out left and right over fears of COVID-19 exposure, and dozens of polling places had to be moved.
Tuesday morning, there were scattered reports of voters who showed up to closed polling places and were redirected to new ones. As of early Tuesday morning, six precincts in the city’s 43rd Ward had yet to have election equipment delivered to it, according to 43rd Ward Ald. Michele Smith.
But Allen says the anticipated problems were mitigated somewhat by a low voter turnout. Only 10,000 showed up to vote in the first hour, a period where polling sites see a typical pre-work early morning rush. In a typical, low turnout mayoral election, the turnout usually hits 30,000-40,000 in one hour, according to Allen.
While turnout projects to be extremely low Tuesday, there was a record primary turnout for early voting and 118,000 people voted by mail.
Voters are urged to check Chicagoelections.com for information on where to go if their precinct polling places are shut down.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz