By Adam Gentile
The Coronavirus pandemic caused chaos and uncertainty in the 2020 democratic primary as poll stations shut down and moved and elections in some states have been postponed to a later date. The possible impacts of Coronavirus on the Democratic primary can be shown using the Tuesday, March 17 Democratic primary as an example, where the effects of the Coronavirus on the four scheduled states have had different scenarios.
Democratic frontrunner former vice president Joe Biden has won Arizona, Illinois, and Florida, increasing his delegate lead to about 300 over his primary rival Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders securing a total delegate count of 1153 almost 800 delegates shy of crossing that 1991 delegate threshold and securing the nomination.
Originally Ohio with its 137 pledged delegates was also supposed to be decided, however, on Monday Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced that Ohio polls will be closed due to health concerns from Coronavirus and rescheduled the election to June 2. DeWine released a statement explaining his decision to postpone the election.
“During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus. As such, Health Director Dr. Amy Acton will order the polls closed as a health emergency. While the polls will be closed tomorrow, Secretary of State Frank LaRose will seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity.”
The New York Times reported that election officials in Florida and Illinois have noted that there has been lighter in-person voter turnout than in 2016.
“As of 1 p.m., about 126,500 people had voted on Election Day,” said Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. The Times reported that Allen said that in 2016 voter turnout at that time [1 p.m.] was around 300,000. Allen also mentioned that over 200 polling places have been moved within the past few days.
Voter turnout in Illinois according to the Illinois Board of Elections was around two million voters. According to the Associated Press (AP), last night’s election turnout with 99% reporting was around 1.5 million voters, a decrease of 25 percent compared to 2016. In contrast according to 538 nearly all of the primary states that voted before last night have seen at least a small increase in voters since 2016.
Unlike Illinois, the voter turnout in Florida in 2020 is on track to be roughly the same as it was in 2016. According to the AP with 99 percent of votes reported in the 2020 Florida primary total turnout is just under 1.7 million voters while the voter turnout in 2016 was just over 1.7 million.
Despite the national emergency, the total votes in Arizona were higher than it was in 2016 by about 60,000 votes.
According to the Arizona Board of Elections, roughly 466,000 people voted in the 2016 Arizona Democratic primary, and according to the AP with 88% reporting about 522,000 votes have been cast in the 2020 Democratic primary. Of the total amount, 380,000 votes cast in Arizona were absentee ballots that had to be requested by March 6.
Earlier this week Sanders told Anderson Cooper his concerns of still holding the March 17 primaries due to the health risk presented to voters due to Coronavirus.
“I would hope the governors listen to the public health experts and they’re saying is, as you just indicated, we don’t want gatherings of 50 or more people,” Sanders said to Cooper. “And when I think about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people and all that, does that make a lot of sense? I’m not sure that it does.”
The Biden campaign in a memo released on Tuesday had insisted on keeping the schedule for the upcoming primaries the same, claiming that elections have remained as they were during other times of national emergencies.
“We held elections during the Civil War, the 1918 flu pandemic and World War II,” said Kate Bedingfield, the deputy campaign manager for Joe Biden, in the memo. “We are confident that we can meet that same challenge today and continue to uphold the core functions and values of our democracy.”