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Calls Grow to Delay In-Person Primary Voting and Move to Mail-In Ballots as Coronavirus Sweeps Across US

"We should delay these elections until people's legitimate fears are allayed."

Voters line-up to cast their ballots at a polling station set up at Noonday Baptist Church for the mid-term elections on November 6, 2018 in Marietta, Georgia. (Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Voters line-up to cast their ballots at a polling station set up at Noonday Baptist Church for the mid-term elections on November 6, 2018 in Marietta, Georgia. (Photo: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

A growing chorus of progressives, journalists, and political observers calling for the delay of U.S. primary elections scheduled for Tuesday and beyond is becoming more alarmed as state and party officials appear determined to go ahead with the six state contests set for March 17 despite warnings from federal health officials about the danger of large in-person gatherings during the coronavirus outbreak. 

"We should delay these elections until people's legitimate fears are allayed," tweeted Young Turks founder and CEO Cenk Uygur.

As People's Policy Project head Matt Bruenig noted, the effect of the virus on voting threatens to delegitimatize the Democratic primary. 

"It will be impossible to determine a legitimate winner of the Dem primary due to virus," tweeted Bruenig, "few have come to terms with this yet."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the two remaining frontrunners for the Democratic nomination, told CNN's Anderson Cooper Sunday night that he was uncertain of the wisdom in going forward with Tuesday's elections in Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and Ohio. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday afternoon he would seek to delay the primary.  

"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 tod 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."

Officials have already postponed voting in Georgia and Louisiana, as Chapo Trap House host Virgil Texas pointed out on Twitter. 

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"Staggeringly irresponsible to not postpone Tuesday primaries (as Louisiana has), a decision made today by three Republican Secretaries of State plus one Democrat," said Texas. "Poll workers tend to be elderly, thus most vulnerable to Covid-19."

"Obviously reduced turnout among older voters would benefit Bernie Sanders," he added. "It doesn't matter—Tuesday's results will be delegitimized by what could be drastically reduced turnout."

Over 1,600 people, including 113 health professionals, have signed onto an open letter demanding the March primaries be delayed in the interest of public health.

Voting rights expert Ari Berman, a journalist with Mother Jones, said on Twitter Sunday that the time is now for a vote-by-mail system.

"We urgently need universal vote by mail so everyone can participate," said Berman. "Voters shouldn't have to choose between health and ballot."

On March 11, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation to mandate emergency vote-by-mail due to the coronavirus outbreak. The bill calls for universalizing vote-by-mail should a quarter of U.S. states declare states of emergency over the pandemic.

"No voter should have to choose between exercising their constitutional right and putting their health at risk," Wyden said in a statement. "When disaster strikes, the safest route for seniors, individuals with compromised immune systems or other at-risk populations is to provide every voter with a paper ballot they can return by mail or drop-off site."

The Intercept's Ryan Grim proposed suspending campaigns until the crisis passed to ensure less people voting.

"The best approach would be to postpone the primaries and move to a vote-by-mail system," said Grim. "But potentially millions of people are scheduled to go to the polls tomorrow and there's no plan in place for mail." 

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