- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Voters heading to the polls in Illinois, Florida and Arizona on Tuesday were greeted with unexpected closures and delays — as well as sightings of protective masks and hand sanitizers — as they tried to navigate their presidential primaries amid the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak.

Election officials had expressed confidence heading into Tuesday that they could hold primaries while simultaneously advising voters to be smart about personal hygiene and “social distancing” in polling lines, but Illinois and Florida reported early problems.

“It has been a hectic and trying day,” said Jay Young, executive director of the advocacy group Common Cause Illinois. “We immediately began seeing problems principally around polling places where election judges had chosen not to show.”

Ohio abruptly postponed in-person voting that was scheduled for Tuesday, with Gov. Mike DeWine blowing past a judge’s ruling Monday evening to invoke a state health emergency and push the election to June 2.

A spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners on Tuesday said they asked Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week to cancel in-person voting and switch completely to voting by mail after the World Health Organization classified the coronavirus as a pandemic, but the governor’s office declined.



“It was a snowball we could all see coming down the hill,” Jim Allen, the spokesman, told reporters.

Mr. Pritzker pushed back against Mr. Allen’s contention, saying their offers to provide the National Guard and other volunteers were rebuffed.

“[It’s] times like these when the constitutional boundaries of our democracy should be respected above all else,” the governor said. “If people want to criticize me for that, well, go ahead. I’ll wear it like a badge of honor.”

A spokeswoman for the governor had said earlier that there are no perfect solutions at the moment — only “least bad solutions.”

As it stood, voters Tuesday were being turned away at some locations, including in Cook County, because of a lack of election judges.

Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough posted a picture on social media of blue painters tape with instructions for poll workers to try to mark the floor and keep voters at least six feet apart.

Dan Kovats, executive director of the Illinois Democratic County Chairs’ Association, said turnout was “very low” but that voting were proceeding.

“We had some election judges call off, but county clerks have done a good job with having reserve judges ready to deploy as needed,” he said. “There have been some issues in Chicago but these issues are similar to a standard Election Day.”

Officials in the three states were hoping that a surge in early voting and vote by mail would make up for lower in-person turnout, with both voters and poll workers wary of getting crosswise with national guidance to avoid large crowds to try to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s campaign issued a memo before the polls closed Tuesday estimating that turnout in Florida and Arizona would be about on pace with 2016 and that Illinois’ turnout would be about in line with 2018 levels.

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who is facing a significant deficit to Mr. Biden in the delegate count, said voting at the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision and the campaign would respect whatever voters choose to do.

Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said the state had been on pace to set new records for early and mail voting for a primary election.

As of Monday, 504,000 early votes had been cast cast and 294,000 mail ballots sent to voters. That was up from a day before the 2016 primary, when the numbers were 400,000 and 160,000, respectively, he said.

Slightly more than 2 million ballots were cast in the 2016 Democratic primary in Illinois.

In Florida, meanwhile, some polling locations were forced to open late because poll workers failed to show.

“We have experienced poll worker no-shows, causing some of our polling locations to open late,” Wendy Sartory Link, the Palm Beach County supervisor of Elections, said on Facebook.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 658,000 Democrats had voted by mail and more than 438,000 had voted early in Florida, well ahead of the numbers from 2016.

About 1.7 million ballots were cast in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary contest in Florida.

In Arizona, in-person turnout was slow but Democrats exceeded their 2016 overall vote total through early ballots alone, according to estimates from the state Democratic Party.

About 480,000 early ballots were cast in the 2020 election, compared to about 468,000 total ballots in the 2016 contest in Arizona, the party said.

“We haven’t heard about a massive exodus of polling workers,” said Matt Grodsky, a spokesman for the Arizona Democratic Party. “We never anticipated there being long lines in a negative sense — we always had a feeling that this would run pretty efficiently just because of the amount of Arizonans that leveraged the mail-in ballot option.

“Turnout lines have been very small and minimal and I think they’ve been running efficiently, so we’re happy about that,” he said.

Still, some advocates said the states should have followed in the footsteps of Mr. DeWine and delayed their elections.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive saying that the election would be held on June 2, in line with what Mr. DeWine had pushed for on Monday.

Mr. DeWine defended the decision Tuesday amid questions about the legality of the move, saying officials did what they needed to do to protect residents in his state.

“What is important as we discuss this is that people have an opportunity to vote over an extended period of time,” he said. “I am confident that we can protect people’s rights and give them that time.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said states holding primaries should make voting easier and that voting by mail should be made available to all registered voters.

“What happened in Ohio … has only bred more chaos and confusion, and the Democratic Party leadership in Ohio is working tirelessly to protect the right to vote,” Mr. Perez said.

He said states that have not yet held primary elections should make it easier to vote “instead of moving primaries to later in the cycle when timing around the virus remains unpredictable.”

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

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