Despite virus, 4 states push forward with primary

Published 7:01 am Tuesday, March 17, 2020

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida, Illinois, Ohio and Arizona are pushing forward with Tuesday’s primary election, although the coronavirus is causing headaches as polling places need to be moved and workers afraid of catching the disease drop out.

The governors’ offices in those states said Monday they are not planning to delay the primary despite the viral outbreak. Georgia already postponed next week’s primary and Louisiana has postponed its scheduled April 4 primary.

In Illinois, there’s no process for canceling or postponing the vote, said Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the State Board of Elections.

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“This is unprecedented so it’s not clear exactly what the process would be for changing it, though it likely would involve a request to the attorney general to seek a court order,” Dietrich said.

As of Monday morning, Ohio’s primary election was on, according to Jon Keeling, a spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose. LaRose, however, postponed a Monday morning press briefing until the afternoon, when he will appear with GOP Gov. Mike DeWine.

Turnout at the polling places is already expected to be light Tuesday as only the Democrats have a contested presidential primary and that is down to two contenders: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Add in that the states were pushing early voting and vote-by-mail even before the outbreak and many fewer voters are expected to appear Tuesday at their neighborhood precinct.

The states are taking steps to limit voter and poll worker exposure to the coronavirus.

In Florida and Arizona, the states moved polling places located in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to avoid exposing the residents to outsiders. For some counties like Volusia, Florida, and Maricopa, Arizona — by far that state’s largest — that became a benefit. The counties combined those polling places with others nearby, meaning they needed fewer workers.

Republican Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has ordered all county boards of elections to offer curbside voting Tuesday to any voter “concerned about coming inside a polling location.” His latest order also requires the boards to accept absentee ballots from hospitalized voters and others who are self-quarantined until 3 p.m. on Election Day.

One Ohio county, Cincinnati’s Hamilton, has invited voters to use their own ink pens, blue or black only, to mark their ballots and urges people to bring their own hand sanitizer to the polls. In Arizona, the Republican governor and Democratic secretary of state released a video early Monday outlining the steps they’re taking to keep voters safe.

Those include measures to keep distance between people, frequent hand washing by poll workers and disinfecting equipment regularly. They also asked voters to wash hands before and after visiting the polls.

“It’s been a lot of work but it’s well worth it because our democracy is worth it,” Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said in the video.

Broward County, Florida, is stocking its 421 polling locations with extra supplies, including 4,000 rolls of paper towels, gloves and more than 400 bars of soap.

“We’ve purchased gallons of rubbing alcohol and are having them transferred to spray bottles,” said spokesperson Steve Vancore. “We’ve ordered cases upon case of Clorox wipes so polls workers can frequently wipe down the equipment and wipe down the voting booths.”

The states have also been pushing early voting and voting by mail as a way to curtail any crowds at the polls. Chicago election officials say the effort paid off with 118,000 voters casting ballots in the mail in the city, which is an all-time record, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.