Many government officials and health experts have warned against crowded places during the coronavirus pandemic, yet Illinois, Arizona and Florida still held their primary elections on Tuesday. The fact that elections proceeded in spite of coronavirus fears brings to question whether voter suppression is at play.
Past primaries this year have taught us that polling sites can become extremely crowded, especially when polling sites have closed down or been relocated even before the coronavirus became a national crisis. For example, according to The Guardian, Texas has closed more polling locations than any other state since 2012, with many of these closures disproportionately affecting Black and brown voters. When Texas had their primaries on March 3, reports of massive lines started reaching national attention and one man by the name of Hervis Rogers even went viral for waiting over six hours to vote at Texas Southern University.
Now, on the day of elections in Illinois, primary polling places have also shut down, opened late or relocated because of coronavirus fears or precautions.
According to Chicago Tribune, some polling sites opened late because of a lack of election judges. Many canceled their appearance most likely because of coronavirus scares and certain counties in Illinois struggled to recruit more judges. In order to be a judge, qualifications include being a citizen, being registered to vote and speaking and writing English. “Election judges must work from the time they report for duty until their work is done, usually two hours after polls close at 7 a.m.,” the Tribune explained.
According to the Chicago Board of Elections, some polling places were completely relocated because of the spread of the coronavirus. This resulted in a lack of materials for some sites because issues arose in getting equipment to the new polling sites. Some voters arrived to polling sites early Tuesday morning only to find out voting materials weren’t available. Thus, many voters were turned away.
“We have no equipment, come back by 7 p.m. or go to 2626 N Lakeview, they’ll accept a provisional ballot,” Ben Wychocki, a Democratic election judge, explained to a voter as he stood outside the steps of the Second Church of Christ Scientist in Chicago. Wychocki estimated that he’s had to turn away 50-70 voters in the morning.
Some polling sites with a lack of materials had to close all together and one 70-year-old Chicago voter, Judith Everly, said she had to drive almost 2 miles just to cast her ballot. Some Twitter users reported that the polling sites that happened to be open were mostly staffed by elderly people, a group most vulnerable to the coronavirus. Certain things like cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer were also missing, according to reports.
Dysfunctional polling sites, coronavirus scares and the relocation of more than 200 polling places probably caused the “extremely low” voter turnout in Chicago, according to The Tribune. It was so bad, that city election officials called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to call off in-person voting but he declined. As of Tuesday, Illinois has 160 coronavirus cases according to Chicago Tribune.
As of Tuesday, Arizona had significantly fewer coronavirus cases (20) and it also held its primary elections. However, similar to Illinois, Arizona also witnessed some last-minute changes to polling locations because of the coronavirus, according to Arizona Republic. In Maricopa County, 80 polling places closed down, causing the remaining 151 voting locations to be deemed “vote centers” where voters can vote at any location no matter what neighborhood they’re from.
Florida faced similar issues to Illinois as well, in that many poll workers dropped out. A lot of polling places were also relocated or consolidated because of coronavirus concerns, according to NBC Miami. So far, Florida has 192 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Although many of the closures and relocations of voting sites in the three states are because of the pandemic, it’s worth reiterating that closures and relocations have been methods used to curtail Black voting in many states. Florida and Arizona especially have a racist history of voter suppression laws and regulations. Wouldn’t it have been simpler to postpone primary elections because of the coronavirus, similar to Ohio? If not, concerns of voter suppression aren’t far-fetched.