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Gov. J.B. Pritzker: ‘We think that the election will go on just fine’

Moments earlier, the Illinois State Board of Elections announced that unlike Ohio, which sought to postpone its primary, Illinois would forge ahead. “Illinois is proceeding with plans for tomorrow’s primary as scheduled,” said Matt Dietrich, board spokesman in a statement.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and state officials said Monday that despite restaurants, bars and other businesses being ordered closed, the Illinois Primary will be held as planned.

“We have to have our elections continue, in my opinion. This is the right thing to do,” Pritzker said at a Springfield news conference. “Our democracy needs to go on. If we cancel these elections, when would you have an election?”

The Democratic governor on Monday endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president. And the blue state has already seen record numbers of early voters and mail ballots requested.

“I feel good about the decision to have the election go on tomorrow,” the governor said Monday afternoon. “We do believe it’s safe. We’ve certainly consulted experts, and we think that the election will go on just fine.”

Moments before Pritzker spoke, the Illinois State Board of Elections announced that unlike Ohio, where Republican Gov. Mike DeWine attempted to postpone the primary, Illinois would forge ahead. A judge denied DeWine’s request, but later Monday night, the Ohio governor announced his health chief will order the polls closed anyway as a health emergency.

“Illinois is proceeding with plans for tomorrow’s primary as scheduled,” Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois electoral board said in a statement.

The reason? Dietrich said much of the voting has already been done, with Illinois seeing 504,000 early votes cast and 294,000 mail ballot sent to voters.

“At this point, there is no date in the foreseeable future when we can expect greater safety with any certainty,” Dietrich said. Dietrich also said having a strictly mail-in ballot election would put many disabled voters at a disadvantage.

The Illinois State Board of Elections does not have the authority to postpone an election. That’s in the hands of the Illinois General Assembly, and Dietrich said “we have no intention of seeking such an order nor has any other state official indicated that intent.”

Dietrich also said that while Pritzker has ordered bars and restaurants closed to dine-in customers, “in-person voting is a comparable transaction to picking up a takeout restaurant order or shopping at a grocery store.”

Pritzker echoed that statement, calling in-person voting a “relatively short process.”

“There really have not been large crowds in many places at any given moment,” the governor said, adding that the total time spent at polling places “isn’t very much.”

Pritzker said polling places will be clean, with hand sanitizers available, and election workers properly socially distancing themselves from voters. And he said schools still serving as polling places, in many cases, “have actually done a deep cleaning.”

The remarks came after Cook County officials made a similar announcement.

Facing an “untenable” election Tuesday, city election officials issued a plea to “anyone under 60 and healthy” to be an election judge as the agency braces for a potential shortage.

“We are bracing for the most difficult election under the most trying of circumstances,” Marisel Hernandez, the chair of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners said, noting that the last time the city had to face such difficult conditions was 102 years ago during the 1918 influenza pandemic.

“If you are healthy and capable and find your precinct to be understaffed and overburdened, you are welcome and encouraged to offer to be sworn in as a substitute judge to help the election run smoothly in that precinct.”

Hernandez directed people to the city’s website to find out how to become an election judge, a position that pays $170 for the day.

There’s been “a torrent, a tsunami” of calls Monday from judges who’ve signed up but had to resign.

City officials didn’t give an exact number of poll workers lost. But they spoke with other jurisdictions, such as Michigan, where some judges didn’t show up on Election Day before the coronavirus became a pandemic.

“We are in an untenable position at this point,” Hernandez said. “And we fully understand and refuse to punish the judges whose age or health condition might prevent them from showing up tomorrow.”

Asked if the board could successfully have an election on Tuesday, Hernandez said the city’s board supplies the “foot soldiers” of the election, and if the governor decides to do otherwise, the city will follow those orders.

Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said election officials across the state are in a “catch-22” and said proceeding with the election was “not our call, this is people higher up, and I think you can tell that we’ve expressed concerns” but will proceed because the board has been ordered to do so.

“We are on orders to conduct an election, end of story, period,” Allen said Monday. “If we say anything now to raise doubts about whether tomorrow is Election Day, we’d stand accused of violating the law and undermining turnout and discouraging voters from exercising their right to vote.”

Last week Hernandez and others urged people to vote early or vote by mail. People seem to have heeded that call — 12,000 people had voted early Monday by around 2 p.m. and the city has already received 30,000 plus mail ballots. Through yesterday, 138,974 people had voted early.

“We have never been in this kind of situation before,” Hernandez said. “We would like to have a successful election and full participation, but we need your help and, likewise, we need your patience tomorrow. So if a polling place doesn’t open up at 6 a.m. when it’s supposed to, if there are people still setting up please be patient.”