The Illinois coronavirus quandary: Will primary voters turn out when everything else is closed?

“I want everybody to know that the Chicago voting system is safe,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on a Biden conference call with Illinois reporters.

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Democratic presidential hopefuls former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Sen. Bernie Sanders take part in the 11th Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The Illinois primary on Tuesday will be a test of whether voters turn out to cast ballots in-person when everything else is closed and people are being told to stay home because of the spreading coronavirus pandemic.

A short time after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine took emergency steps to try to postpone Ohio’s in-person Tuesday election on Monday - the beginning of a day of confusion in Ohio - I was on a Joe Biden campaign call with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Sen. Tammy Duckworth. They were urging Illinois voters to go to the polls if they did not take advantage of a mail-in ballot.

On election eve, the Bernie Sanders campaign was urging backers in the Tuesday states to vote during a “virtual rally.” Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, D-Ill., was among the featured speakers.

Sanders lamented that “the problem we are running into politically, let me be honest with you, is that for a variety of reasons which I won’t go into now, most people think Joe Biden is the more electable candidate in terms of defeating Donald Trump. I honestly don’t believe that.”


In the Biden conference call, we also talked about Biden’s pledge at the Sunday debate with Sanders to pick a female running mate, of interest since Duckworth and Lightfoot have been on some handicappers’ long list.

Duckworth did not shut down speculation, saying it was “way too premature” to talk about Biden’s v.p. pick.

Lightfoot did close the vice presidential door. She added, “I’m happy to jump on the ‘Tammy for V.P.’ wagon.”


Let’s dive into Illinois pushing ahead with the primary as the number of coronavirus infections swell.

“I want everybody to know that the Chicago voting system is safe,” Lightfoot said on the Biden conference call with Illinois reporters.

Lightfoot said when she voted early on Saturday with her wife, Amy Eshleman, she observed “heightened measures being taken to make sure that the voting experience was sanitized after every person voted. All the voting equipment and the space were wiped down with alcohol based wipes. 

”And so I felt in complete confidence that not only was it safe. ... but also was done in a manner that was consistent with CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidance around how we keep spaces clean. So I want to encourage everybody to go out and vote.”

Lightfoot said it takes only about “five minutes to vote,” so it falls into allowable CDC guidelines.

I’m glad Lightfoot’s sanitized polling place left her with no concerns. I don’t assume her experience will be meticulously replicated or that election judges, sitting in precincts all day, won’t be left exposed because of a social distancing snafu or if they don’t have enough wipes and other cleaning supplies.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Lightfoot have been coronavirus hardliners — pushing for school, business, bar and restaurant closings, remote working, social distancing, hand washing — carving out an exception for the Tuesday Illinois primary.

As the coronavirus crisis deepens in Illinois, Pritzker and Lightfoot, both Democrats supporting former Vice President Biden over Sanders, the Vermont independent senator, may find they used up some of their political capital in keeping the election on while turning every other function off.

As of Monday night, there is confusion over Ohio, supposed to cast ballots along with Illinois, Arizona and Florida on Tuesday. The Ohio Health Director was going to close the polls because of the “health emergency.”


All signs point to a Biden Illinois win and his building an insurmountable delegate lead over Sanders.

What’s changed between 2016 and 2020 in Illinois?

The reality of the Trump presidency; In Chicago, the rise of democratic socialism and the coronavirus explosion shutting down, for now, everyday life and wrecking our economy.

City Clerk Anna Valencia, who on Monday endorsed Biden, said she expected Biden to do better in Chicago that Clinton did in 2016.

Biden is likely to do well in the liberal-leaning wards; the socially liberal economic conservative wards; the old southwest side Machine wards; and the north and northwest and southwest wards with a lot of city workers. Sanders will do well in pockets of lakefront precincts; the Hispanic wards on the northwest and southwest sides and the six wards whose aldermen are declared democratic socialists.

*Background: On March 15, 2016, Hillary Clinton barely beat Sanders in Illinois. She won 50.5%, or 1,017,006 votes to 48.7% or 982,017 votes for Sanders statewide. Breaking that down, Clinton harvested 53.69% of the Chicago vote to 45.32% for Sanders.

That’s the yardstick to compare as Illinois pushes on with its coronavirus primary.

More background from 2016 results:

Cook County: 53.6% for Clinton to 45.6% for Sanders

Lake County: 52.7% for Clinton to 47% for Sanders

DuPage County: 47.4% for Clinton to 52.3% for Sanders

Will County: 47.1% for Clinton to 52.4% for Sanders

Kane County: 43.5% for Clinton to 56.2% for Sanders

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