Missing equipment, judges and voters: Polling problems during the pandemic

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CHICAGO — Election Day in Illinois took place during the COVID-19 pandemic and created a new set of problems at polling places around Cook County and across the state. 

From election judges, to equipment, to hand santitizer, many election essentials were missing on Tuesday.

More than 200 polling places were moved Tuesday after a loss of senior election judges created long lines and a challenge for the Chicago Board of Elections.

Officials said the shortage was due to elderly judges dropping out amid concerns about the possible spread of COVID-19.

850 election judges, a full ten percent of the people who signed up, told the Cook County clerk ahead of time they wouldn’t show up.  Dozens more were no shows. 

But at least one polling place in the 43rd Ward on the city’s North Side had a different problem.

“There’s no equipment here — we’ve been expecting it for the past four and a half hours. It should’ve been here yesterday at the very least. We have nothing right now,” said Ben Wychocki an election judge.

Election judges at the 2700 block of North Pine Grove arrived before 5 a.m. and reported there were no voting machines and no answers from the Board of Elections.

“I’m doing my duties. I want to get this thing set up. Every time I see a van drive by I go check it out just to see if it’s got the box in it. But so far we’ve got nothing,” Wychocki added.

Election judge Rebecca Gross said the her precinct’s supplies never showed up. 

 “We got there and there was no voting box for us to set up. Which meant we literally had zero voting supplies,” she said. “No ballots, no ballot boxes, no vote counting machine.”

Top officials with the city’s board of elections were vocal about concerns heading into Tuesday’s primary.

During a Tuesday conference call Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said he encouraged Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker to go to a “Mail-only” voting strategy in Chicago due to the loss of election judges worried about COVID-19.

“I walked down here — that was not the end. Walked all the way down there and I’ve been here like two hours maybe, at this point,” said Chloe Ganntt, a Lakeview voter.

Kathy Bell another Lakeview voter — said she was supposed to vote at a nursing home on her street. She went to three locations before finally casting her vote.

“It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, and nice people are around me, so it’s wonderful to have an opportunity to vote,” said Bell.

Problems were also reported at Truman College where voters complained that judges couldn’t get voting machines up and running.

There were also complaints about the amount of available hand sanitizer.

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