Early voting kicks off with hand sanitizer, vote-by-mail suggestion to avoid coronavirus risk

Mail-in ballots for the primary election March 17 recommended for people worried about the spread of coronavirus.

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An early voter receives an “I voted!” bracelet after casting his ballot in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the new Loop super site at 191 N. Clark St., Monday morning, March 2, 2020.

An early voter receives an “I voted!” bracelet after casting his ballot in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the new Loop super site at 191 N. Clark St., Monday morning, March 2, 2020.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Chicago election officials urged voters worried about contracting coronavirus to vote by mail instead of trekking to a voting location as early voting expands countywide.

“Our number one concern is to ensure that all eligible voters are able to make their voices heard without jeopardizing anyone’s health and safety,” Marisel Hernandez, chair of the city’s election board, said Monday at a press conference for the start of countywide early voting.

“This is why vote-by-mail makes perfect sense in this election. We’ve always informed voters about how vote by mail is perfect because you don’t know how the weather is going to be … well no one also knows if they’re going to get the cold or the flu in a couple of weeks. If you’re worried about getting sick, or contracting something, this is the perfect time to apply for a mail ballot.”

Despite the virus, both the city, and the county, are surging ahead with their early voting plans. Voting sites will have hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes at voting sites.

“We will be monitoring everything closely,” Hernandez said.

The new Loop super site at 191 N. Clark St., across the street from the busy Clark/Lake CTA L stop, boasts more than a dozen check-in stations and 100 touch screens for voting, Hernandez said.

Through Sunday, 1,823 people had used early voting, which is similar to 2016 numbers at this time, Hernandez said.

There’s been “monumental” growth in applications to vote by mail. Through Sunday, there had been 63,000 applications compared to 34,000 who applied to vote by mail in the 2016 primary. Voters have until March 12 to request a mail-in ballot.

All of the county’s 54 sites are open for early voting, Clerk Karen Yarbrough said. DuPage County began its countywide early voting at seven locations Monday as well. Lake County has 16 countywide sites for early voting. Will County offers 26 early voting sites and many began operations Monday too.

Hernandez said she expects an influx of voters after Super Tuesday. It was too early, though, to predict how many people would cast ballots before the Illinois primary March 17.

“I think [voters] recognize that it’s going to be very important to how the next five years will play out, so I foresee a high turnout but that’s all left to be seen,” Hernandez said.

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