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Local News

Will County Clerk, poll workers manage election amid coronavirus concerns

'It's not ideal'

The Will County Clerks office scrambled to recruit election judges after about 200 decided not to work at polling places out of concern for the novel coronavirus.

Charles B. Pelkie, the chief of staff to Will County Clerk Lauren Staley Ferry, said their election judge coordination team spent a great deal of time before and on Election Day assigning judges to replace those who had canceled.

He also said it didn't help that the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was found in Will County on Monday.

"As news developed yesterday, things started to change pretty significantly," he said on Tuesday. "The election judges were very concerned."

Pelkie said even more judges decided to cancel through Tuesday. The clerk's office sent out alerts to recruit replacement judges throughout the weekend and on Monday. The new recruits had to be quickly trained over the weekend and some judges had to moved around from their assigned polling locations.

"It's not ideal," Pelkie said.

While those challenges led to a small number polling locations starting a few minutes late, Pelkie said, voters were still able to cast their ballots.

One of the new recruits was 17-year-old Jackson Eason, a student at Plainfield East High School. Eason was working with two other election judges at R.C. Hill Elementary School in Romeoville on Tuesday. He said he was honored to serve and that learning about the electoral process was interesting to him.

"I always thought of it as such a simple process," Eason said. "But now that I'm actually doing it, I'm realizing how many tiny things go into everything."

While some officials feared turnout might have been lower on Election Day than in past years due to fears of the virus, many Will County residents who came out said they were determined to vote.

Joliet resident Cynthia April, 55, said despite the news, she wanted to cast her ballot.

"(It was) no problem," April said.

She added she had one issue in particular that motivated her to vote: defeating President Donald Trump.

Pelkie said the clerk's office wasn't anticipating delays in reporting election results on Tuesday, but that there could be a lower turnout compared to previous years.

Still, he said it helped that there was a significant increase in early voting compared to the last primary in a presidential election year. Over 24,000 people voted early — not including those who voted by mail — this year compared to over 12,000 in 2016, according to Pelkie.

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