CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — On the same day that Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the first Illinoisan has died from complications after contracting coronavirus, some voters say they felt sanitation measures at polling places weren’t enough to meet the severity of the situation.
At a daily press conference Monday, Pritzker confirmed that primary elections would continue as normal, calling it “the right thing to do.”
While Center for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that no more than 50 people should congregate at a time and a mandate from Pritzker earlier this week followed suit, Pritzker said that “many people have voted early already” and added that voting machines are supposed to be wiped down after every use and social distancing utilized.
But some voters in Champaign County say that’s not what they witnessed at their polling places.
Ashley Beyler said she went to a polling place at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Champaign, where she didn’t see pens being sanitized or changed before voters shared it with each other.
“I wore gloves in, just for my protection, Beyler said. “The people sitting there to do the judging (weren’t) six feet apart and the booths were next to each other. I’ve had to think about this kind of thing because I’m a daycare teacher and we’re already always cleaning anyway. It was very upsetting to me. They said they didn’t have enough time to think about what was going on — what would it have taken to put booths six feet apart?”
It also upset her mother, Shirley Maryan, who after hearing about her daughter’s experience, opted not to vote because of her age and weakened immune system.
“It’s very emotional for me,” Maryan said, adding that she has voted in elections since she turned 18. “I don’t feel safe to vote. I just think if a normal citizen is thinking of these (preventative) things, they could have taken some measures to make it safer. I felt like I had a voice to say how I felt in our country.”
Cheryl Redman Coad said she prepared in advance — and once she arrived at her polling place in Rantoul, decided she was glad that she did.
“I wore a mask,” she said. “I took my own gloves. I took my own pen and I’m glad I did. I got some funny looks, but for me it’s better safe than sorry because I do have some preexisting conditions that would make (contracting coronavirus) very costly to my health.”
Coad called the lack of social distancing at the Gathering Place, which is in the backlot of First United Methodist Chruch, “disappointing.”
Champaign County Deputy Clerk Angie Patton said that each polling location had been equipped with disinfecting wipes, spray and hand sanitizer and added that volunteers had been given basic instructions about social distancing and other hygienic practices from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.
Officials with Election Protection, a nonpartisan, nonprofit that operates a hotline for voters to report issues, said that over the course of Tuesday, calls came in across Illinois about health concerns, with some people saying they believed it dangerous for them to vote due to showing symptoms or possibly carrying the virus to other voters.
“A lot of folks (calling in) are just in recent days showing symptoms or either had relatives who are healthcare workers or know someone who might test positive for coronavirus,” said Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights communication director Timna Axel, who worked with Election Protection on Tuesday. “It’s too late for them to request a mail-in ballot; they can’t vote in person — these folks right now who are stuck.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a good answer for them right now,” she added.
Kristen Clarke, who is the executive director at Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and also works with Election Protection, said in a press call Tuesday that the states who continued to hold elections despite COVID-19 concerns should be a model to states whose primaries are upcoming.
In Illinois, “we observed the impact of poll worker shortages and poll sites insufficiently equipped with sanitation products,” she said.
“The theme of the day is that officials need to do more to be prepared,” she said. “Hopefully there are lessons for other states that have not conducted their primaries that they can take from Arizona, Florida, and Illinois.”
Clarke added that “we need sanitation on-site for voter safety and to instill confidence in the electorate.”