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As Election Day limps out of the gate, Chicago election board rips governor for not postponing whole thing

The Chicago Board of Election Commissioners and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office exchanged barbs publicly Tuesday while contending with low voter turnout.

Chicago Election Board spokesman Jim Allen demonstrates touch screen voting machines at the “Loop supersite” at 191 N. Clark St.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times file photo

Polls that failed to open. Election judges that failed to show. Promised bottles of hand sanitizer that failed to arrive. And low voter turnout.

With the coronavirus on the loose, Chicago’s elections on Tuesday are looking like a shaky affair.

Barely 312 hours after the polls opened in Chicago, city election officials ripped Gov. J.B. Pritzker for refusing last week to reschedule the whole thing. And, lashing back, Pritzker’s office contended that it had offered Chicago reinforcements — including National Guard troops to work as election judges — but the city failed to take the state up on the offer.

City election board spokesman Jim Allen revealed Tuesday the city in a March 11 phone call had urged Pritzker’s office to cancel in-person voting today in favor of mail-in ballots but was told by the governor’s legal team to proceed as planned.

”It was a snowball we could all see coming down the hill,” Allen complained to reporters, referring to the city’s struggles in the last week to be ready for elections in the face of the coronavirus crisis. “Where is the mystery in this?

”Other states are postponing,” Allen added. “They don’t have scenarios where seniors are tweeting and posting comments about being fearful of going into polling places or serving on Election Day.”

Allen said the city requested that today’s primary elections be postponed mere hours after a global pandemic being announced by the World Health Organization. But, he said, that suggestion was “rejected.”

”There’s nothing magical about March 17 unless you’re Saint Patrick,” he said.

In a tweet shortly after Allen aired his complaints, Anne Caprara, Pritzker’s chief of staff, shot down Allen’s account.

“This is a lie,” Caprara tweeted at 10:21 a.m. “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,” Caprara wrote.

The governor’s office said the election board held a call with the governor’s office, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Illinois Senate President Don Harmon last week in which the board voiced concern about having enough election judges. The governor’s office offered the National Guard to help staff the election and to also help with recruiting volunteers.

They said 2,000 young people from Mikva Challenge also were turned away from volunteering.

Later Tuesday, Pritzker said the board wanted him to “unilaterally cancel in-person voting on March 17th, convert Illinois to an all vote-by-mail state and extend vote-by-mail to May 12th.”

He said that was “unquestionably not within my legal authority,” and that the board “could not even begin to explain the legal basis for the request” or how it could be pulled off statewide.

“There are people out there who want to say, `It’s a crisis. Bend the rules and over-step your authority,’” the governor said.

“Let me tell you this: It is exactly in times like these when the constitutional boundaries of our democracy should be respected above all else. And if people want to criticize me for that, well go ahead. I’ll wear it like a badge of honor.”

Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Ohio moved in recent days to postpone their presidential primary elections after declaring a state of emergency due to the spread of the coronavirus. But Pritzker on Monday had said he didn’t see that as an option for Illinois.

”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,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said. “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.”

The governor’s office said it is not a “perfect solution” to still have an election on Tuesday.

”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,” Abudayyeh said.

Update: Early Tuesday afternoon, Allen responded briefly to the pushback from Pritzker staff.

“I’m not going to get in a back-and-forth with another individual,” Allen said. “I did express some concerns for all involved. Our staff and our poll workers are in a very difficult situation. So I’m not going to call anybody names or anything like that.

“We know what was said in that meeting and they know what was said in that meeting, so I’m going to leave it at that. I’m not going to take that chum.”