Early voting sites to remain open in Chicago on Election Day — providing ‘fallback plans to fallback plans’

The unprecedented modern day pre-election scramble comes as the list of Election Day polling sites in the city and suburban Cook County requiring relocation climbed to 175 amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

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Fred Blakely, 75, of South Shore, shows off his “I voted!” bracelet after casting his ballot last week.

Fred Blakely, 75, of South Shore, shows off his “I voted!” bracelet after casting his ballot in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the new Loop super site last week.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Girding up for an Election Day they expect will wind up as “Exhibit A” in the push for changes in the future, city election officials said Friday a judge has given them permission to allow voters to cast ballots Tuesday at early voting locations in addition to regular polling places.

A Cook County Circuit Court judge granted the injunction sought by city election officials, providing a fallback voting location in each of the city’s 50 wards on top of those planned for each of the city’s 2,069 precincts, said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the city’s Board of Election Commissioners.

“We’re seeking fallback plans to fallback plans, contingencies upon contingencies,” Allen said.

Early voting hours also have been extended this weekend, with all locations open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

The unprecedented modern day pre-election scramble comes as the list of Election Day polling sites in the city and suburban Cook County requiring relocation climbed to 175 —including those that have already been moved and those still needing a new site.

The city’s electoral authority is seeking to move around 110 polling sites.The Cook County clerk’s office identified 65 sites that needed relocating and has found new locations for most of them.

Those numbers have increased steadily over the last few days. Though Allen and other city officials were hoping the number had “leveled off yesterday,” they’re taking proactive measures in the face of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite dealing with the global pandemic, the city is setting new records for early voting and vote by mail applications.

The city processed 117,813 total applications for vote by mail ballots which is an “all time record” for the city’s electoral board. Twenty thousand of those applications came in on the final day when the city extended its Thursday deadline to midnight.

In 2016, that number was just 33,955 applications for ballots.

Edwin Reyes, 62, of Beverly, casts his ballot in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the new Loop super site at 191 N. Clark St.

On the first day of early voting, Edwin Reyes, 62, of Beverly, casts his ballot in the March 17 Illinois primary election at the new Loop super site at 191 N. Clark St.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“That’s a pretty remarkable increase,” Allen said. “We were priming that pump, we highlighted it in our mailing to 1.1 million households and even before this week we were approaching 80 to 90,000 applications but the events of the last couple days really pushed this up.”

The city worked with the postal service to create a tracking system for outbound and inbound ballots and will be able to see whether a ballot was mailed on or before Election Day.

The city is also ahead of 2016 numbers for early voting. Shortly after 4 p.m. Friday, 14,000 people had voted early, putting the city on pace to approach 20,000 early ballots cast. That would top the 16,000 ballots cast at the same point in the early voting process four years ago, Allen said.

In 2016, 191,000 pre-election ballots were cast and the city is likely to surpass that this election cycle with 105,000 early ballots cast.

“We’re trying to do the best we can to reroute traffic from the polling places on Election Day,” Allen said. “We’re appreciative of the understanding that the voters have demonstrated.”

Allen said this election cycle will likely lead to changes in the future.

“We think there will be serious conversation about changing how we conduct elections,” Allen said. “We’ve been saying for years now that we need to rethink this whole precinct-based system and this election will be Exhibit A for moving more of our balloting to mail.”

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