CHICAGO — Chicagoans trying to cast ballots in Tuesday’s election faced scores of problems at the polls amid the spread of coronavirus.
Because of the virus, many polling places and election judges dropped out, which left officials scrambling to replace them.
As a result, many voters are trying to cast their ballots on Election Day only to find out their polling place has been moved last-minute or their polling place is under-staffed.
Voters are also reporting volunteers are unprepared and missing equipment, officials aren’t providing sanitary products and the Chicago Board of Election website keeps crashing, among other issues.
It took 32-year-old River West resident Aaron Miller four tries to cast his ballot on Tuesday.
Miller tried to cast a mail-in ballot, but the ballot never came.
On Election Day, Miller went to the Chicago Board of Election website to find out where his polling place was. The site told him to go to a Salvation Army two blocks from his apartment.
But when he arrived, workers told him the polling place had been closed due to the virus.
Miller went back home and pulled up the site again, but it kept crashing. He then called the Chicago Board of Election number and was told his new polling place was a nearby school.
He drove there and started the voting process but quickly realized the ballot listed the wrong precinct and ward. The election judges acknowledged the problem and also discovered they didn’t have the correct ballot box because of the last-minute changes.
The judges told Miller to go to the citywide polling place at Clark and Lake, which is where he was finally able to cast his ballot.
Miller, who works for a biotech company in Chicago, said while he was impressed by the kindness of each volunteer he encountered, he is troubled by the voting system and its inability to “handle these sorts of changes.”
“Things fall through the cracks, especially in this uncertain time. I feel like everyone had all of the best of intentions to try and protect community health and allow people the opportunity to vote, but this is the most scary thing — this breakdown in being able to participate in democracy because of this virus,” he said.
Miller said while he was able to run around to different polling places because he has a car and works from home, many people cannot do that.
“I was already out and mentally committed to vote. But it’s not an ideal scenario to go to three different places and interact with all of these people when the governor and the mayor is telling us our distance ourselves,” he said.
Logan Square resident Maureen Malek said she checked to make sure her polling place, at Kedzie and Wrightwood avenues, hadn’t moved Monday night, but when she showed up to vote on Tuesday, she was greeted with a sign that simply read “Election Canceled” with no further information.
Malek said many people went home after seeing the sign, but eventually a neighbor found the replacement polling place and directed neighbors there.
“This was an absolutely disappointing and disheartening experience,” Malek said. “I am a determined voter and made it work, but I could easily see how someone would see that sign, or think it was too cumbersome to get to another polling place last minute, and just go home.”
Barnaby Wauters, also a Logan Square resident, said his polling place, at El Centro, Northeastern Illinois University’s academic building at 3390 N. Avondale Ave., didn’t meet the state’s sanitary standards.
He said voters had to wait in a room together, use the same pen to fill out forms and touch screens were not sanitized between voters.
On Tuesday, Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said the board told the governor’s team they wanted to call off all in-person voting because voters were afraid of coronavirus. Instead, they suggested, everyone could vote by mail.
The governor’s team refused.
Turnout is “extremely” low in Chicago, the spokesman said. As off 11 a.m., 77,835 people had voted in person.
Allen said the elections board did not expect any precinct polling places would have to stay open late as very few people had encountered closed or moved locations, and those who did were largely able to vote at another location or said they would return later.
About 90 percent of precincts were up and running at the star of the day, Allen said.
“We got off to a decent start, a slow start to the day, in what could be a very low turnout overall on Election Day,” Allen said.
Allen said the board had also distributed the sanitization materials it had available, including hand sanitizer and wipes for screens. He noted the “vast majority” of voters would use paper ballots and not touch screens on Tuesday.
“We certainly had no idea when we were making these purchasing moves [for sanitization supplies] back in November, December and early January that there would be a pandemic, a global pandemic,” Allen said.
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