FILE - voting Illinois

Randy Wick, 68, fills in his midterm election ballot at an early voting poll at a mall in Bloomingdale, Illinois in 2018.

(The Center Square) – County officials across the state had to replace hundreds of volunteer poll workers Tuesday who had previously committed to working the 2020 primary election in Illinois before concerns about the new coronavirus surfaced. 

With COVID-19 spreading across Illinois, a number of counties reported their election judges, who had previously committed to working at a polling place, either called to say they would not participate or just didn't show up. 

The Champaign County Clerk’s office said it was forced to close nearly a dozen polling locations because the office didn't have enough poll workers and redirected voters to a different location. Officials in DuPage County had to close 17 locations.

Elsewhere, polling places were maintained after county clerks to replaced the volunteers who reneged on their commitment or convinced them that it was still safe to work at the polling locations. 

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of the election judges in Sangamon County who heeded the call,” Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray said. “We’ve had swings of vacancies anywhere from 125 to 150 in a three-day period that we’ve been able to place and put to the field here on election morning.”

Gray said no locations in Sangamon County were forced to close, but said many were down to the bare minimum staffing levels. 

In Tazewell County, Clerk John Ackerman was forced to move only one of their locations, but was able to maintain or replace much of his volunteer staff and, with the help of county officials, use funds freed up in the emergency declaration to slightly raise pay for poll workers.

“We lost about a fifth of them as of yesterday morning and then the phones started ringing from 8 a.m. all the way to 7 p.m. with judges dropping,” Ackerman said. 

He added that they had seen around three dozen volunteer workers sign up to replace the vacant positions. 

Ackerman had also personally delivered vote-by-mail ballots to voters in the days leading up to the election.

In Chicago, election officials were forced to close eighty polling locations and take steps to move others from locations where they thought bringing the general public could put the elderly at risk.

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois and Arizona government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Central Illinois and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.