- Associated Press
Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Here are excerpts of editorial opinions from newspapers throughout Illinois.

June 26, 2020


Sauk Valley Media

Vote by mail expansion is good for public safety

The images of Wisconsin primary voters standing in lines stretched for blocks early in the coronavirus pandemic should serve as a lesson.

When the presidential election rolls around Nov. 3, there’s a good chance we won’t be past the COVID-19 health crisis. Voting by mail is a safer and more efficient option than voting in person. And Illinois is making it easier for voters to go that route.

Voting by mail isn’t a new concept for Illinoisans, but the process is getting a lot of attention lately as the longevity of the coronavirus pandemic is unclear and a presidential election is on the horizon.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed a bill expanding the program for the November election only, noting the program is aimed at ensuring “safe and active participation in the 2020 general election during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

The law requires local election authorities mail or email the vote-by-mail applications to voters who cast a ballot in the 2018 general election, the 2019 consolidated election or the 2020 general primary election, as well as voters who registered or changed addresses after the March primary – roughly 5 million voters. Any eligible voter who submits an application by Oct. 1 will receive their ballot by Oct. 6. Voters can also check with their local county clerk’s if they aren’t mailed an application but want to apply for a mail-in ballot.

The legislation also raises the standard for rejecting a vote-by-mail ballot by requiring local election authorities to appoint a bipartisan panel of three election judges to verify voters’ signatures and the validity of the ballot. Previously, only one election judge made this determination.

While opponents of the legislation point to the potential for voter fraud, statistics show that while fraud is slightly more common than in-person voting, it’s a minuscule amount, according to an NPR.org article.

The article cites an op-ed by Amber McReynolds, a former Colorado election official and now the CEO of the National Vote at Home Institute, and Charles Stewart, director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, which noted while over the past 20 years, more than 250 million ballots have been cast by mail nationwide, there have been just 143 criminal convictions for election fraud related to mail ballots. That averages out to about one case per state every six or seven years, or a fraud rate of 0.00006%.

About a quarter of all voters voted by mail in the 2018 midterms.

Many voters are likely to be uneasy being in close contact with others at polling places, especially seniors who are more susceptible to the virus. And for those who prefer to cast their ballot in person, the mail-in option will likely decrease the number of people at polling places, reducing risk of spreading the virus. Vote-by-mail expansion opens the door for more people to vote, comfortably and safely from their home.

No system is perfect. Election officials must be on high alert, and already working on preparations for efficiency and security.

Let’s avoid the Wisconsin fiasco. Now that the groundwork has been laid to educate more voters by sending applications to their homes, more people are likely to avoid the polls, keeping themselves safe as well as helping prevent the spread of coronavirus.

___

June 28, 2020

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph

Health officials must clarify their message

We’re struggling through a pandemic. We need the best information available. We need accuracy.

Most of all, we need common sense and straight talk from the people who are attempting to lead through this. We need the advice we get from medical professionals and from pandemic and virus experts to make sense.

We’re not getting it.

Consider this paragraph from the World Health Organization’s website:

“Non-medical, fabric masks are being used by many people in public areas, but there has been limited evidence on their effectiveness and WHO does not recommend their widespread use among the public for control of COVID-19. However, for areas of widespread transmission, with limited capacity for implementing control measures and especially in settings where physical distancing of at least 1 metre is not possible – such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments – WHO advises governments to encourage the general public to use non-medical fabric masks.”

If there were an evaluation link on that web page asking, “How helpful was this answer?” the answer would have to be “Absolutely not.” Everything after the word “however” is a direct contradiction of the words before it.

That’s not the way “however” works.

Part of the issue is that we’re watching science try to work in real time. We’re seeing fits and starts, signs of huge victories and indications of terrible defeats. As we’ve regularly been told about sausage and laws, maybe the worst thing about scientific and medical decisions is watching them be made.

Everyone with access to the internet can consider themselves experts in every field. Many do consider and present themselves as experts, even when the closest they’ve been to a laboratory or a hospital is picking someone up from there.

Jonas Salk didn’t have to listen to Twitter.

What the noise makes possible is, similar to television news, consumers can pick the news that matches their ideology and each person feels entitled to protect their view.

As more information becomes available, the way we react to the changes says more about us than about the professionals who daily study and deal with it. They didn’t think we needed masks, now we do. They didn’t think animals could get or transmit the virus. But surprise, they were proven wrong. We should be more quick to praise those who acknowledge they were incorrect than we are to damn them for updating their observations.

But we do encourage a language adjustment. We’ve found scientists are often sloppy with language. They’re not well-trained in nuance, and aren’t accustomed to interpretation of words and phrases. For their information to be clear, we need to demand fine details as they are available at the time.

That’s the only way we can avoid reading consecutive sentences that disagree with one another.

___

June 28, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times

When a juvenile justice diversion center does more harm than good, close it

When happens when a teen gets caught stealing a shirt from a store or fighting with a classmate or carrying an illegal drug?

It depends on who and where.

Historically in the United States, and to this day, a white kid from a comfortable family in the suburbs might get a stern warning before being sent home with Mom and Dad. There might be a fine involved.

A Black kid from a poor family in the city might find himself under arrest, riding in the backseat of a cop car, on his way to being fingerprinted.

One kid gets a good scare. The other gets a criminal record.

In the criminal justice field, this injustice is a part of what’s often called the “school to prison pipeline” for minority kids, and 14 years ago the Chicago police tried to do something about it. CPD, in cooperation with a city agency that arranges social services, opened an “intervention and support” center for these kids in an old police station in the Brighton Park neighborhood.

The purpose of the center was to keep kids who screw up - but who are by no means high-risk offenders - from getting sucked into the juvenile justice system. Fewer kids would get criminal records. More kids and their families would get help.

Except it hasn’t worked out that way.

The Juvenile Intervention and Support Center, at 39th Street and California Avenue, has been a bust, as best as anybody can tell given its poor record-keeping. It should be shut down and replaced.

The center has worked more like a kiddie cop station than a diversion program, and there’s a possibility it has made matters worse, not better, for some of the 3,000 young people delivered there annually.

The crying need for alternatives to cops and courts remains as loud as ever, though, and there are diversion programs elsewhere that Chicago should seek to replicate. The best ones, such as one in Miami, are not predominantly run by the police, but by social service agencies. They don’t make a habit of handcuffs. Or fingerprints. Or criminal records.

Chicago’s program, referred to as JISC, has been excoriated for years by juvenile justice reformers, who complain that transparency at the center is so poor it’s impossible to even know if kids are being helped or hurt. The criticism came to a head in February when City Inspector General Joe Ferguson, recalling the sight of kids handcuffed to bars in empty rooms, concluded in a scathing report that JISC clearly fails to use the best practices for youth diversion.

Then, on Tuesday, the city department responsible for arranging social services at JISC, at a cost of $4.8 million a year, walked away from the center, saying the money could be better spent elsewhere.

“We are looking forward to embracing new, creative and evidence-driven approaches” to “limiting youth contact with law enforcement,” Lisa Morrison Butler, head of the city’s Department of Family and Support Services, said at a hearing. “Tinkering around the edges will no longer satisfy the standards of best practices or the needs of Chicago’s young people.”

We could not agree more. JISC is a noble experiment that has failed. Chicago should move on.

If it swims and quacks like a duck…

The center’s problems begin with its location.

The whole point of a diversion program is to avoid treating kids like apprentice criminals, yet above the door at JISC, in big blue letters, are the words: “Police Station.”

“The city can’t just order the sign shop to paint ‘Juvenile Intervention and Support Center’ on the door and pretend you’ve changed anything other than the sign on the door,” Julie Biehl, director of Northwestern University’s Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Children and Family Justice Center, told us. “The JISC is a police station and nothing more. “

From there, things get no better. Most of the kids get criminal records - they are charged with a crime - even if they eventually are sent home. In the first nine months of 2018, WBEZ found, only four kids were released without being charged. Sixty percent ended up going to court.

Defenders of JISC argue that the kids sent to court probably had it coming; they had committed serious crimes. But if that was the case, why were they sent to JISC in the first place? The center is intended for youths who have done the normal stupid stuff - like fighting or vandalism - that might get them a school suspension.

We argued last week that posting police officers in schools too often leads to the criminalization of bad behavior by young people who, in reality, may be deeply traumatized and in need of help - not punishment. JISC, we fear, might be doing the same.

A better model of juvenile justice diversion begins with dropping the threat of criminal charges. In Miami, the police are more likely to issue “civil citations” to get kids into its diversion program. Social workers, family counselors and psychologists take it from there.

As a society, how should we treat other people’s children?

With the patience, compassion and belief in second chances that we treat our own.


Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.