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One Thing The Coronavirus Hasn’t Canceled: The Illinois Primary Election

Voting election illustration
Nat Thomas
St. Louis Public Radio
All four primaries scheduled for Tuesday will move forward as planned according to officals from Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Illinois.

BELLEVILLE — The Illinois primary election is moving forward as planned on Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a press conference on Thursday.

“Free and open elections are the structural support of our democracy,” he said.

Concern about the novel coronavirus has postponed the Louisiana primary, but in a joint statement, officials from Illinois, Ohio, Arizona and Florida affirmed their primaries would go on as planned. 

“Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past, and based on the best information we have from public health officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and securely cast their ballots in this election,” wrote Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose and Illinois Elections Board Chairman Charles Scholz. 

Pritzker has encouraged localities to expand early voting hours until Election Day and says people should take advantage of the expanded hours to avoid crowds. The state is also working to move polling places from nursing homes to other locations, Pritzker said.

In St. Clair and Madison counties, three polling stations have moved from nursing homes to nearby alternative venues.

As of Sunday morning, there were two cases of the new coronavirus in the Metro East. St. Clair County health officials Saturday said the two women — one in her 60s, the other in her 70s — returned from international travel about a week ago. 

Where to vote

Belleville Precinct #34, located at Westfield Manor senior living apartments, was relocated to the St. Clair County Housing Authority building at 1790 S. 74th St. in Belleville, St. Clair County Clerk Tom Holbrook told the Belleville News-Democrat.

Polling locations at Asbury Village in Godfrey and Meridian Village in Glen Carbon, both senior living centers, were also moved, Madison County Clerk Debbie Ming-Mendoza told the Belleville News-Democrat.

Voters who usually go to Asbury Village will still go there, but they’ll vote across the street from the original polling place, at 5219 and 5222 Aldergate.

The Meridian Village polling location is now at Calvary Baptist Church, 2249 Illinois State Route 157, in Edwardsville.

Both Ming-Mendoza and Holbrook have ordered election judges to exercise caution to protect voters' health. 

“We have provided our election judges and our polling places with hand sanitizer wipes,” Ming-Mendoza said. “I am telling them to use the common sense their parents pounded into them to practice good hygiene.”

Election judges are being encouraged to avoid shaking hands and sanitize voting equipment regularly. 

Primary preview

Illinois voters head to the polls one week after former Vice President Joe Biden won primaries in Missouri and Michigan. This year's primary outcome will likely look similar to those states and not like the tight results of 2016, said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

“The pattern for us on Tuesday night will look a great deal like Michigan last Tuesday night,” he said. “That similarity with another big urban, manufacturing and agricultural state leads me to believe that the outcome will be very similar in Illinois.” 

It’s possible Biden could win every single county in Illinois, as he did in Missouri and Michigan, Jackson said. 

“The momentum has made a huge difference, there’s no question,” he said. “[Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders] just got clobbered in Michigan.”

The coronavirus has complicated large-scale campaigning in Illinois, as most events for Biden and Sanders were canceled or moved online. 

No one from the Sanders or Biden campaigns immediately responded to requests for comment.

The virus could also suppress voter turnout. Holbrook said he expects turnout below the 25% participation rate that’s typical for St. Clair County. 

Hear Eric Schmid's conversation with St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske about this story:

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Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricDSchmid

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Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.