PEORIA — With the coronavirus rearing its ugly head in the U.S., the Peoria County Election Commission is reminding voters that they don’t have to leave their homes to vote.

"We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to have their voice heard, everyone has the opportunity to place their vote. We are also hearing some concern from a few members of our communities with voting in public locations because of fear of this virus. As such, we want to remind everyone that vote by mail is an option,” said Tazewell County Clerk John Ackerman during a news conference Thursday on the potential impact of the coronavirus on the upcoming primary election.

The next day saw a significant uptick in requests for vote by mail ballots, said Tom Bride, the Peoria County Election Commission executive director.

“Any type of story is going to drive the number of requests up. We’ve had no excuse voting for a number of years in Illinois, and this was a good opportunity to make people more aware of it. Now is a great opportunity to try it — if you are having concerns (about being in public), you can always vote from home,” he said.

The deadline to apply online or over the phone for a vote by mail ballot for the primary election is noon March 12. After that, voters can still visit their election commission office to pick up a ballot until Election Day. All ballots postmarked on or before Election Day, March 17, will be counted. For Peoria voters, the web address is www.peoriaelections.org/180/Obtain-Vote-by-Mail-Ballot; Tazewell County voters should visit https://il-tazewell.ballotrequest.net/; and Woodford County voters can fill out the online application at www.woodford-county.org/504/Vote-by-Mail.

Vote by mail is a convenient option for anyone, but particularly for the elderly, who might have difficulty getting to the polls. Many area nursing homes will be offering absentee voting for home-bound residents this Friday and Saturday, but nursing home residents who live independently will need to sign up for vote by mail if they don’t want to visit the polls on Election Day, said Bride.

The publicity effort is aimed at keeping turnout high both in the primary and the upcoming presidential election, said Bride. The coronavirus has the potential to limit the number of people who get out and vote.

“I’m more concerned about what it will do to turnout on Election Day,” he said. “I think the little bump we had in the last couple days (in requests for vote by mail ballots) has got people thinking ‘we can do that.’ I think vote by mail will continue to grow as people get used to it.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.