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Legal hotline for voters available; lawmakers’ return to Springfield uncertain

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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.

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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)

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- Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, Hindi, Urdu and Tagalog: 888-API-VOTE (88-274-8683)

- Arabic: 844-YALLA-US (844-925-5287)

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.

Drivers services, other offices closed

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced all offices under his purview, including driver services facilities, will be closed from Tuesday through March 31.

A spokesperson said the hope is for services to resume April 1. Other offices closed include that of the Secretary of State Police and Illinois Securities Department.

Only “skeleton crews” of necessary employees will remain at work, the spokesperson said.

For anyone whose driver’s license, for instance, expires during that time period, White’s office said in a news release not to worry — the secretary of state is asking for the Joint Commission on Administrative Rules to extend those expiration dates by 30 days.

“After careful consideration, it is clear that this decision to close offices and driver services facilities is the right one to make for the health and safety of Illinoisans,” White said in a statement. “This important action will help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”

Illinoisans can visit to get a duplicate driver’s license and renew their vehicle registration.

“We will do everything we can to help protect the health and safety of our residents,” White said in a statement. “This will, and must, be the guiding principle of our decision making.”

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.

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