COVID-19 IMPACTS: Legal hotline for voters available; lawmakers’ Springfield return date uncertain


Primary elections will go on as scheduled Tuesday

Published by Capitol News Illinois on March 16, 2020

By Rebecca Anzel
Statehouse Reporter


Empty Statehouse

The Capitol Rotunda is nearly empty Friday as lawmakers are not at the Statehouse and large gatherings are disallowed there out of concern about the spread of coronavirus disease, COVID-19. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Ben Orner)

SPRINGFIELD — Legal volunteers are staffing an Illinois call center to address issues and concerns voters might have while casting a ballot in the primary election Tuesday.

“No voter should be disenfranchised as a result of unanticipated challenges that we face this election cycle,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.

Some of those issues could include misinformation, voter intimidation, inaccurate identification requests and problems with mail-in ballots.

Timna Axel, director of communications for Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said the coronavirus outbreak has created “a lot of confusion” across the state. A deluge of election judges have canceled their shifts and left precinct locations understaffed, and state-ordered polling place relocations without proper notification to voters might cause problems.

She added Illinoisans who requested a mail-in ballot and never received it are still allowed to vote in person Monday and Tuesday.

The professionals — trained by Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Kirkland & Ellis LLP — staff a similar call center for each election. This year, it will be open from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

The main number is 866-OUR-VOTE. There are also three hotlines Illinoisans who speak another language can call:

  • Spanish: 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682)
  • Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and Tagalog: 888-API-VOTE (88-274-8683)
  • Arabic: 844-YALLA-US (844-925-5287)

“We have to have our elections continue,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said during a news conference Monday. “This is the right thing to do our democracy needs to go on, we need to elect leaders. If we cancel these elections, when would you have an election, that would be a question I might ask.”

Pritzker said the “most important thing” is that precautions are being taken, such as wiping down voting machines, stocking hand sanitizer and maintaining proper distance between people.


Lawmakers’ return to Springfield ‘in flux’

It is uncertain when lawmakers will return to session in Springfield. House and Senate leadership officially canceled only one week of legislative session and, according to the calendar published in January, are scheduled to return Tuesday, March 24.

House Democrats, though, are being told the schedule is “in flux.”

House Democratic leadership sent caucus members a memo Monday urging them to “be prepared to return to Springfield for session at any time.”

Jessica Basham, House Speaker Michael Madigan’s chief of staff, wrote representatives should begin planning — deciding on a transportation method that will not compromise their health and on practices to keep themselves safe while at the Statehouse.

“Any call for session will not be made lightly — the greatest priority is the consideration of the health and safety of all our communities,” Basham wrote. “A call to return to Springfield amidst this public health emergency would only occur if necessary.”

She added the spring session’s schedule is “being reviewed daily and should be considered ‘in flux.’”

The four legislative leaders and officials from Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office are deciding which legislative measures are necessary to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the memo.

A spokesperson for Senate President Don Harmon said that chamber’s session schedule is also tentative.


Nurses demand child care services

Nurses “on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic” are demanding officials at all levels of government to ensure child care services are provided.

The Illinois Nurses Association, the industry’s union, said in a statement Monday that the increase in cases of COVID-19 will fatigue the state’s nurses.

“As the coronavirus spreads, nurses will be called on to work more hours and extensive overtime and expose themselves to the virus,” the association said in a news release. “… As schools are closed to stop the spread of this disease, nurses need child care to take care of their responsibilities at home, as they take care of patients on the frontline of this pandemic.”

The union is also urging nurses receive personal protective equipment as deemed appropriate by science.