Evanston poll workers, polling places express confidence in coronavirus precautions ahead of Tuesday’s election

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Illustration by Jacob Fulton.

On Election Day, Evanston polling locations were mostly quiet, which some attribute to an increased use in early voting and mail-in ballots.

Daisy Conant, Reporter

As the doors of the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center closed to early voters Monday night, Evanston’s 27 polling places and Cook County election judges geared up for a smooth and safe Election Day.

Although coronavirus cases have spiked in Evanston over the past week, building managers and poll workers expressed confidence in the Cook County Clerk’s Office’s steps to mitigate any potential risk of infection from entering a voting site on Tuesday. The Clerk’s Office has stepped up COVID-19 precautions since the March primaries, implementing stricter social distancing guidelines and mask mandates, while promising to provide adequate amounts of sanitizer to polling places. 

Robert Crown Community Center and Library, located at 1801 Main St., canceled all of its recreational programs and plans to close its library branch to create a safe environment for 2nd and 9th Ward voters. The center, the Jane R. Perlman Apartments and the Chandler-Newberger Community Center have each implemented six-foot apart floor markers and directional signage to ensure safe flows of voters in and out of the voting booths.

“The staff and I are confident in our preparations,” said Ann Marie Heiser, Robert Crown’s recreation manager. “We’re all hoping that there is less foot traffic due to the high turnout for early voting… but we’re going to have everything set up so that everyone will feel safe coming into the center.”

Sue Brenner, a member of the League of Women Voters, echoed Heiser’s hope that Evanston residents took advantage of early voting, mail-in voting or drop-box voting — all of which have been accessible since October 19 — to reduce in-person voting levels.

Yet she noted that even with a lower-than-normal turnout, lines may lengthen if individuals chose to deliver their mail-in ballots to their polling station or if they decide to vote in-person after requesting to vote absentee, as these methods take longer to process.

Despite the risks associated, Brenner — who has enthusiastically worked the polls for the past 15 years — plans to join thousands of suburban Cook County election judges operating the polls in civic centers, churches, apartment complexes and hotels Tuesday. She’ll be serving 6th Ward voters at the Lincolnwood Elementary School polling place for the fourth year in a row, extra masks on hand.

“I don’t feel as good about it, or as easy about it, or secure about it as I did in March before the lockdown,” Brenner admitted. “But I’ve decided that it’s important enough to me that I’m going to continue to be an election judge.”

Chris Nieuwsma, on the other hand, will be trying her hand at election judging for the first time tomorrow.

The 4th Ward resident said she was not “overly concerned” about working the polls during the pandemic as she prepares to help operate the Bethany Baptist Church polling site. She added that the city has been clear about the safeguards to prevent any potential exposure, assuring poll workers that they will be provided face shields and hand sanitizer.

Although she elected to volunteer after reading of potential poll worker shortages due to the pandemic, Nieuwsma emphasized she was motivated by a sense of “civic duty” as well.

“It was also just honestly something that was helpful for me to do, something that was within my control,” Nieuwsma said. “I’m just feeling a higher than normal degree of anxiety with regard to the election and the state of our union. I figured this is something I could do to participate, beyond voting.”

Election Day voting is still set to begin Tuesday at 6 a.m. and will continue until 7 p.m.

Delaney Nelson contributed reporting. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @daisy_conant

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