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Gov. JB Pritzker And Chicago Election Board Trade Barbs Over Handling Of Tuesday's Primary Elections

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Defending himself against criticism from city election officials for not cancelling in-person voting and switching to an all mail-in process for Tuesday's primaries in Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker said he would not use the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to "supersede my constitutional authority."

"There are people out there today who want to say, 'Oh, it's a crisis, bend the rules, and overstep your authority.' Let me tell you this. It is exactly in times like these when the constitutional boundaries of our democracy should be respected above all else, and if people want to criticize me for that, well go ahead, I'll wear it like a badge of honor," Pritzker said at his daily briefing on the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Earlier in the day, Chicago Board of Election Commissioners spokesman James Allen had said, in a call with the governor's staff last week, the board urged the state to cancel in-person voting on Tuesday, and move to voting by mail only, but their request was rejected.

Allen also noted the governor on Monday said he was mandating a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

"How do you reconcile that with having an election?" Allen said. "This is not anywhere near a normal situation. this is a global pandemic and it was a snowball we could all see coming down the hill."

Pritzker said the city's election board had wanted to extend the vote-by-mail deadline to May 12, but could not provide a legal basis for cancelling in-person voting on Tuesday.

"Nor could they explain how they believed that they and election authorities across the state could effectively convert the election to all vote-by-mail, nor could they promise the people of Illinois that the state would be able to hold an election on the date of May 12," Pritzker said.

The governor also criticized the city's election board for refusing offers to help staff polling stations, as the city was facing a major shortage of election judges. Pritzker said he not only offered to provide the National Guard to help staff polling places, but also worked to recruit volunteers, including 2,000 students from the Mikva Challenge, but was turned down because the board "wouldn't reduce red tape."

"So instead of accepting help or offering any solutions of their own, the Chicago Board of Elections decided to wait until Election Day to get on a call with press and make politically charged accusations," Pritzker said.

According to Allen, turnout was "extremely low" at Chicago polling places in the first two hours on Tuesday, likely because so many people are staying home. However, even with concerns about the ongoing spread of COVID-19, Allen said he would not call low turnout a blessing in disguise.

"I would call it a curse," he said.

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