The Watch | Voting and COVID-19



A few months ago, if you said public officials were zooming, it might have been an insult.

During a pandemic, some public bodies aren’t meeting at all. Springdale Cemetery Authority Board, for example, cancelled its meetings for March, April and May. Using Zoom is a sign of common sense.

On April 14, all five Peoria County Election Commissioners used a special phone number and code to dial in to their regularly-scheduled meeting.

They learned the final report on the general primary was being sent to the state of Illinois that same day. Sixty-two percent of those eligible to vote did so. A record high number — 12.5% — voted by mail. About 25% voted early. All equipment has been cleaned and put away; it is hoped that the state will help pay for extra expenses due to the coronavirus.

Commissioners discussed what to do for voters who couldn’t ask for a ballot online because they had registered to vote before the office became computerized. This affects about 4% of registered voters. The voters can receive a ballot if they phone or write the office, but the county does not have a Social Security number or driver’s license on file for them. It was decided that the website will explain what the voter is to do. This cannot be done until 90 days before the next election.

In other potential COVID fallout, should the state opt for all vote-by-mail, Peoria County could not handle all the ballots. The state would need to provide help.

When Peoria Park District met via Zoom on April 8, board members learned of some other unanticipated fallout: Zookeepers need masks and gloves to work with the big cats and primates.

Trustee Joyce Harant had asked for information about the zoo’s tigers, since there were reports that a tiger at another zoo had been infected by a zoo employee who had the virus.

Along with the mask/glove change, trustees were told that committees have not been meeting regularly due to the virus and changing guidelines, but would resume soon with virtual meetings. Staff noted that budget adjustments to reflect the pandemic impact will be coming soon.

In other business, trustees unanimously: annexed 7.4 acres of land along Illinois Route 91; approved a three-year contract with AFSCME; filled the vacancy for an assistant treasurer; OK’d an additional $14,000 to finish work on Trewyn steps.

On April 6, the Peoria Housing Authority also used Zoom to meet. Chairman Carl Cannon, Vice Chair Alma Brown and Treasurer/Finance Commissioner Kadar Heffner were present in person; Secretary Helen King participated electronically.

The meeting began promptly at 4:30 p.m. There had been notice in the Peoria Journal Star and on the PHA website, and the website included a meeting agenda. To give background about how to meet during the pandemic, Cannon read an executive order from Gov. JB Pritzker and information from legal counsel.

There were no public comments. Marsha Moses was introduced as the new assistant manager at Sterling Towers.
Chief Executive Officer Jackie Newman said webinars and conference calls are being used to keep in touch with state government, Illinois Department of Public Health, Centers for Disease Control and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development regarding COVID-19 precautions. Weekly updates with staff are also being conducted electronically.

PHA offices have been closed to the public. Newman said steps are being taken to verify income so families don’t pay more than required if their work status or hours have been reduced. She said PHA staff cannot mandate social distancing and hand-washing. Education on strategies is available; there are sanitizing stations in common areas; and managers are available to follow up on resident concerns.

In related comments, she discussed security concerns at Harrison Homes. Apparently, non-residents are congregating there without maintaining social distancing. Security staff and Chief Daniel Duncan are working on this. Newman and Cannon are meeting with Peoria city officials to discuss security and collaboration.

PHA staff is working on a parking policy for visitors. They have met with city fire officials to block off one entrance to Harrison, while continuing to offer access in case of fire.

Heffner noted a reduced number of security incidents during February; Cannon said Harrison is improved and Taft is calmer.

For full LOGO reports of local meetings, check The Illinois League’s Voter Guide offers information about candidates at

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