Voters in Illinois, Arizona, Florida Trickle Into Primary Polls
Voters in Florida, Illinois and Arizona were trickling into the polls Tuesday as the coronavirus pandemic continued to wreak havoc on the Democratic presidential primary calendar with Ohio postponing its contest, citing a public health emergency.
As fears about the virus grew and President Donald Trump advised Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, Bernie Sanders halted traditional get-out-the-vote efforts and told supporters that going to the polls is a “personal decision.” Joe Biden’s campaign told voters who are at risk or might have been exposed to look into voting by mail or absentee.
Ohio, where 50 people have been diagnosed with the virus, was the epicenter of a battle over whether to proceed with in-person voting on Tuesday. The state health director ordered the polls closed even tough a court on Monday rejected Republican Governor Mike DeWine’s recommendation that voting be postponed until June 2.
“During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at a unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” DeWine said.
A last-minute attempt to keep the polls open failed when the Ohio Supreme Court, without comment, denied a request at 4 a.m. from a county judicial candidate for an order to hold the primary on grounds it was a violation of election laws for state officials to change the date.
There also could be wrangling about when Ohio will now hold its primary. The Ohio Democratic Party said in a statement Tuesday it will advocate for earlier than June 2 with expanded vote-by-mail and other changes.
Fears about the virus continued to roil the Democratic nominating process. On Tuesday, Maryland became the fifth state to delay voting as Governor Larry Hogan announced that its primary would be pushed back from April 28 to June 2.
Maryland followed Kentucky, which announced Monday that it would delay its primary from May 19 to June 23. Last week, Louisiana announced that its April 4 primary would be moved to June 20, and Georgia said it would move its vote from March 24 to May 19.
Still, elections proceeded as scheduled in the three other states scheduled to hold primaries on Tuesday.
In Florida, which has an outsize community of retirees who are especially at risk to coronavirus, state officials said that the nearly 2 million ballots already cast in early voting and vote by mail had reduced the potential for heavy election day traffic.
But state authorities said that voters in self-isolation who hadn’t yet cast a ballot should ask someone to pick up their vote-by-mail ballot for them, which requires two special affidavits to be filled out. Authorities also referred college students — some registered in Florida, even though they returned to households in other states after classes were suspended — to inquire about picking up vote by mail ballots.
“We’re dealing with this in a thoughtful way, but we’re not going to panic,” Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters Monday. “The fact of the matter is these things can be done in ways where you’re not going to have large crowds, because it’s one vote.”
At the entrance to Miami’s Legion Park polling station, a large container of hand sanitizer was set up for voters to use as they walked in and out.
Inside, a half-dozen poll workers wore blue latex gloves and followed training instructions on not shaking hands, keeping a distance of at least six feet and telling voters to pick up forms themselves instead of personally handing them off.
Carlos Marin, 45, said he tried to vote early but ran out of time. Even though he was concerned about the coronavirus, he came out because he wanted to support Biden.
“I know some people who decided to stay home and not vote,” he said, noting that he used hand sanitizer and washed his hands after casting his ballot. “I really believe the election should have been postponed. I think people staying home is going to affect the outcome.”
Illinois also saw high numbers of early voting, with Chicago breaking a record set in World War II for voting by mail.
Shelly Ruzicka, a spokeswoman for worker rights group Arise Chicago, voted early in Chicago on Monday in case the polls ended up closed on Tuesday.
While Ruzicka had to stand in line when she got to the polling site, it was much shorter when she left. Inside, workers wore gloves, had hand sanitizer available and asked people in line to distance themselves, she said.
“Went smoothly,” she said in a text. “Didn’t feel that different from other elections, voting!”
— With assistance by Shruti Singh, and Jonathan Levin
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