Coronavirus concerns may be impacting early voting for primary election, officials say

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Concerns about the COVID-19 virus may be having an impact on early voting in the 2020 Illinois primary. One week after Chicago election officials encouraged people to use vote by mail if they had health concerns, vote by mail has now hit near-record numbers.

Cleary some people are concerned about the novel coronavirus, and that's driving decisions to vote early and by mail, but Chicago election officials say there could be other factors as well. And that could be simply the importance of this election.

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"You sure you don't want no hand sanitizer?" an election official asked as someone came in to vote at the early voting super site at Lake and Clark.

One week after early voting sites opened in all 50 wards, the number of people taking advantage of that opportunity was about the same as this point in 2016. But for those wishing to avoid the crowds and avoid using the new touch screen voting machines, vote by mail is reaching new heights of popularity this year, up nearly 250 percent.

"It's hard to read these numbers because we really don't have anything to compare 90,000 vote by mail applications for a primary, we're approaching record territory from the 2018 November election," said Jim Allen, spokesperson for the Chicago Election Board.

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The Chicago Board of Elections downplayed concerns about COVID-19 being a driving factor, attributing it more to people's familiarity with the process of voting by mail.

Meanwhile most people out voting early were doing so out of convenience.

"I like the convenience," said Jeff Key, who came out to early vote over the lunch hour.

But many people were using hand sanitizer after early voting.

"Well I'm scared, I don't know that's happening if we're going to be quarantined in the next couple of days, so I came in now so I can get my vote in before the 17th," said Jessica Murphy, early voter.

"We are taking the coronavirus seriously but we also are not panicked," said Genie Kastrup, vice president of SEIU Local 1

The union held a membership meeting this weekend and has members canvassing in a couple of local races.
"So we have not seen a lot of concern or pushback about going out and canvassing," said Kastrup. "You know, people aren't really, you know, they're living their lives. They're being smart about it, but they're living their lives, we had a great crew out this weekend."

What Chicago election officials do not know is what impact the Governor's state of emergency declaration may now have on early voting and vote by mail.

As for the Illinois primary eight days from now, voter turnout could be hurt by the outcome of the primaries tomorrow, particularly Michigan if Joe Biden does well and further cements his front runner status.
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