Wednesday, November 4, 2020

COVID just one more Election Day challenge


Jackie Garmon at the Loop Super Site, 191 N. Clark.

     The newspaper asked me to write a column about COVID and the election, which is below. As for Election Night ... well, unlike some, I'm in no rush. However it ends, we'll have elected a man who embodies American values. That is one scary thought.

     Even in ordinary times, the American electoral system presents a strange business model: a service offered in a dozen languages — including Urdu, Gujarati and Bengali — to customers from 18 to 108, whose millions of choices must be immediately tabulated by seasonal workers. The fate of the nation hinges on the process being done correctly — plus, in a crowning surreal touch, patrons, though adults, expect a sticker when they’re done, like children visiting the doctor.
     Now add a global pandemic.
     “COVID changed everything,” Marisel Hernandez, chair of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said last week.
     The March 17 primary was a dry run which saw city and state feuding up to the last minute over whether to hold an election at all. New York canceled theirs, and 15 other states postponed. Holding Illinois’ primary proved educational.
     “We learned a lot,” Hernandez said. “Every election has its own obstacles, but March was the most challenging we ever had. We had locations closing. Owners refusing to let us use their places for polling. Judges canceling. As a result of that election, we learned how valuable, how important early voting and voting by mail is.”
     In the primary, the city rolled out new touch screens, ballot scanners and tabulation software. Before anyone had heard of coronavirus, worried election officials tried to guard against Election Day malfunctions by ramping up early voting. Now early voting is standard: For the first time in history, more Americans voted early than are expected to cast a ballot on Election Day.

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