CHICAGO (CBS) — This year’s presidential election is poised to be historic for many reasons, and Wednesday in counties all around Chicago, final preparations were underway for the start of early voting Thursday.

DuPage County is working to make voters and election judges feel safe. The DuPage County Fairgrounds will be the county’s first and only polling place for early in-person voting. The county clerk moved early voting there for many reason, most significantly because of the size of the room and ability to keep doors wide open if needed.

Less than 24 hours before DuPage County voters enter the doors election judges sat through training. This year in a pandemic that training contained a whole new set of rules and a whole new set of personal safety equipment.

“Everything has been turned upside down and inside out,” said first term DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek.

Kaczmarek said planning has been underway since the primary ended. She said $3.5 million in state and federal Cares Act money has been used to buy now needed items like shields, sanitizer, masks and new equipment to handle mail-in ballots. Kaczmarek also doubled election judges’ pay as an incentive. Early voting judges will now get $20 an hour.

“We’re in pretty good shape with election judges. We’re always recruiting.

It’s a move other county clerks have made, too, in hopes of avoiding a judge shortage. Melissa Nachman said it helped sway her, admitting she was concerned about her safety.

“However, I felt that it was important. We need to have election judges just to make our elections work well, and I weighed the two things,” Nachman said.

Safety is clearly a priority. Polling stations are six feet apart. Floor markers demand social distancing, and a mail-in drop box is near the door for those dropping of mail-in ballots. DuPage County has gotten 155,000 mail-in ballot applications. Statewide there have been almost 1.8 million.

“That is an incredible number. The most we’ve ever had cast in vote by mail was just two years ago; 430,000 voted by mail,” said the Illinois State Board of Elections’ Matt Dietrich

Dietrich said at this rate half of the presidential votes could be cast before election day. He echos what many election leaders say: the earlier the better.

Early voting begins in all of Illinois except Cook County and the City of Chicago. That’s also when those requested mail-in ballots will begin to be sent out.

Paper ballots begin Thursday, but touch screen voting begins Oct. 19 in DuPage County.