Election officials take precautions with new touchscreen ballots amid COVID-19 outbreak concerns

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Early voting is now under way at 52 locations across Chicago, expanding Monday ahead of the March 17 primary.

Last month early voting got underway at many county clerk's offices across the state as well as the new Loop "Super Site" at 191 N. Clark St. in Chicago.

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With new touchscreen machines being used for the primary, election officials are addressing concerns about COVID-19 impacting voter participation.

Election officials are downplaying concerns but say they're taking precautions.

They also said uncertainty in the Democratic Presidential contest is another factor that could impact early voting.

Monday, election officials showed off the new touchscreen technology which is part of a $22 million upgrade. The county has invested $32 million for the new equipment which is designed to provide much greater protection against cyber-attacks.

"The equipment came at a price, but hopefully long term it comes at a better price," said Ed Michalowski, Deputy County Clerk of Elections.

With concerns about COVID-19 and so many people touching the screens, early voting sites are stocked with hand sanitizer and wipes.

"Our number one concern is to ensure that all eligible voters are able to make their voices heard, without jeopardizing anyone's health and safety," said Marisel Hernandez, chair for Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

However, voters didn't seem too concerned.

"It's a possibility but I mean it's here so we'll have to deal with it, but I don't have no immediate concerns. I wash my hands," said early voter Andre Bolden.

Election officials are encouraging people to vote by mail if they have health safety concerns.

Election officials said as of the end of the day Sunday, 1823 people had participated in early voting at Chicago's super site, which opened February 19.

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Now with two high profile democrats, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, dropping out of the presidential race in the past 24 hours, the uncertainty could mean early voting may get off to a slow start.

"My person's still around and pretty sure my person's gonna stick around for a while. I thought about it a little bit, I noticed there are a lot of names on the ballot [of] people who've already dropped," said Hector Villagrana, who voted early.

"After Super Tuesday I think we'll see a definite rise in the number of early voters," Hernandez said.

Monday afternoon, Governor Pritzker said that as long as people take the recommended hygiene precautions, particularly washing hands and disinfecting common use surfaces, there should be no concerns about COVID-19 being spread at early voting locations

Applications to vote by mail have nearly doubled from where they were four years ago, but it is unclear if it is due to the virus concerns or other reasons.
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