Three states across the country are holding presidential and state primaries on Tuesday amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Voters in Florida, Illinois, and Arizona are heading to the polls to decide the Democrat and Republican presidential nominees. Also on the ballot are a slew of primaries for federal, state, and local of offices.
The contests are the first to take place since Coronavirus cases skyrocketed across the globe, forcing the World Health Organization to deem the virus an international pandemic. As such, turnout is expected to be below average as at-risk populations, mostly the elderly and individuals with compromised immune systems, are advised to stay home to mitigate their risk of infection.
Concerns the pandemic will spread through polling places has led national and state health officials to take added steps to preserve public health and safety. Last week, the secretaries of state of Florida, Illinois, and Arizona announced they were implanting new policies to ensure polling locations, and specifically voting machines, were sanitized properly.
For some elected officials, though, such precautions were not enough. Originally, Ohio was also supposed to hold its primaries on Tuesday, but Republican governor Mike DeWine opted to issue an order on late-Monday delaying voting until June. DeWine’s decision, which faced legal challenges before being allowed to move forward, comes as Ohio’s public health system is already laboring to control the Coronavirus outbreak. In total, Ohio has more than 67 confirmed cases of the pandemic across 16 counties. The state’s health secretary, however, estimates the total number may be above 100,000.
DeWine’s last minute decision may seemed justified on Tuesday as both Illinois and Florida struggled to administer their respective primary elections.
In Illinois, where Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) ignored entreaties by local officials—including his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich—to reschedule the election, precincts battled both low turnout and inadequate resources. In Cook County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, the board of elections even went to the extent of petitioning Prtizker to cancel in-person voting after election judges failed to show up, citing fear of the pandemic. Other precincts suffered as well as state health officials reneged on a promise to provide hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes.
The situation was hardly any better in Florida, where some precincts could not open because hundreds of poll workers failed to show up because of the virus.
It is unclear what the impact of such problems will be on the primary process itself. The marquee race on the ballot is that for the Democrat presidential nomination as 441 delegates are up for grabs in Illinois, Florida, and Arizona. Prior to the pandemic’s break out, former Vice President Joe Biden was considered likely to sweep all three states on Tuesday against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Such an outcome, although still likely, is by no means certain given the difficulties seen on the ground and the low turnout among older voters—a key Biden demographic.