Election officials expect more mail-in ballots, early voting amid coronavirus worries

Officials with the Illinois State Board of Elections are in the process of putting together recommendations designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at polling places ahead of the March 17 primary.

Officials also said those who want to avoid polling places altogether still have other options.

Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich said the agency is seeking specific recommendations from state public health officials for polling places. He said he expected it to be similar to what had already been recommended.

“If you’re using touchscreen equipment, wipe it down with alcohol-based wipes,” Dietrich said. “If you’re using paper ballots, you may want to keep in mind people using the same pens, keep it clean.”

COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that emerged in late 2019. It has been at the center of a global outbreak.

Local election authorities determine polling places, but Dietrich said he expected more changes around the state to move polling places away from nursing homes.

“Nursing homes make good polling places because they are accessible,” Dietrich said, noting some throughout the state have already made the decision to change locations. “They didn’t want the risk of having the general public coming into their facility. That’s up to the election authority having to relocate those precinct polling places.”

Voting by mail is still an option, but the deadline for requesting a mail-in ballot is Thursday.

“Vote by mail ballots, as long as they’re postmarked by election day, they’ll be counted,” Dietrich said.

He said he expected the number of mail-in ballots to exceed the last presidential primary election.

“We had about, I believe, 119,000 votes cast by mail in the last presidential primary, in 2016. We’ve already got more than 200,000 vote-by-mail ballots that have been sent out and I would expect you may see a rush,” Dietrich said. “That number could go up significantly in the next couple of days.”

Voters must request a mail-in ballot from local election authority by no later than the end of Thursday. Information is available on the Illinois State Board of Elections’ website.

Early voting is also an option throughout the state. In Sangamon County, early voting has been extended until 7 p.m. weekdays and they’re also open on Saturday and Sunday.

“There’s really great, ample opportunity for you with extended hours for you to be able to cast your ballot early,” Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray said in an Instagram video. “Don’t wait for the hustle and bustle of election day. Stop by and cast your ballot now.”

Hours for early voting may differ throughout the state. Contact local election authorities for specific hours.

Illinois’ primary is March 17.

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