CHICAGO — Nursing homes that typically double as polling places on election day won’t be tallying votes this year, as concern over the new coronavirus grows, city and county election officials told Patch.
“Some nursing home administrators don’t like the idea of their residents leaving to vote somewhere else, and others don’t want other people coming in to cast ballots,” Chicago election board spokesman James Allen said.
As of late Tuesday, 24 of 2,069 precincts in Chicago did not have a definite polling site set for election day this coming Tuesday, Allen said.
In Cook County, 15 nursing homes opted out as polling places. And the early voting center at Sunrise Villa Senior Living in Olympia Fields was shut down Tuesday after management expressed new coronoavirus-related concerns, Cook County Clerk spokesman Jim Scalzitti said.
Officials said even more nursing homes and privately owned locations could opt out as polling places in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election.
“There are other sites that are also dropping out citing the new cornoavirus. We’re treating it on a case-by-case basis,” Allen said.
“This is unprecedented and uncharted waters for everybody. When in the last century has there been an intersection of a potential, and I stress potential, pandemic and election? No matter what we do, voter turnout will be affected by fears about COVID-19. Every polling place will have hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes. But there are significant reservations from private owners of polling places and our voters.”
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Allen urged Chicago voters to take advantage of early voting locations and apply to vote by mail either online or by dropping off an application at the election board office by 4:59 p.m. Thursday. People who decide to vote on election day should check chicagoelections.gov to see if their polling place has changed on before heading out to cast a ballot.
“We don’t know what changes will have to be made to polling places tomorrow or [the days leading up to the election],” Allen said.
In Cook County, elections staffers are expected to continue to call nursing home managers to confirm whether they will open their buildings to voters on election day, Scalzitti said. Election officials plan to send emails and letters to voters affected by precinct closures.
“Public health officials say that Chicago is still at low risk. We want people to vote,” Allen said. “But we also want them to stay healthy. That’s why we’re urging people to take advantage of early voting”
Allen offered a bit of advice in a virus-inspired twist on an old Chicago election saying:
“Vote once, and wash your hands early and often.”