Three of the four states which scheduled in-person primary voting for Tuesday—Arizona, Florida, and Illinois—are going ahead with it despite threats to public health from the coronavirus outbreak that spurred Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine to delay voting in his state until June.
Progressives and political observers found the decision to move forward with voting to be a mistake given the severity of the coronavirus.
"Trying desperately to urge people to take coronavirus seriously and to stay at home—and then holding elections and encouraging them to go vote at polling stations filled with poll workers and others: the opposite message—is appallingly irresponsible," tweeted Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald.
President Donald Trump on Monday, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, discouraged assemblies of more than 10 people. Voting in the U.S., the world's oldest democracy, can involve waiting in line for hours, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods.
As Common Dreams reported Monday, DeWine made the decision to cancel Ohio's primary elections out of an abundance of caution over the disease. After losing a court case on that cancelation Monday night, DeWine and Ohio Department of Health director Dr. Amy Acton stopped the voting for health reasons—a move that was upheld by the Ohio state Supreme Court early Tuesday morning.
While Ohio's cancellation worked its way through the courts Monday, Florida polling places reported losing workers at a rapid clip.
"I reached out to our county administrator and the sheriff, and also the school supervisor, and I said, 'We're hemorrhaging poll workers by the hour and we need your help,'" Pasco County supervisor of elections Brian Corley told the Washington Post Monday.
In Florida, sheriff’s deputies are being asked to help at voting locations Tuesday: "We’re hemorrhaging poll workers by the hour" https://t.co/y8KGfgl52p— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) March 16, 2020
A number of polling places in Illinois were unmanned as of Tuesday morning, according to social media. Users posted photos of closed or near-empty polling places on Twitter to show the scope of the problem.
March 17, 2020
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Election Day so far: 5/8 election staff are elderly, we were provided with no cleaning supplies, we are missing an ENTIRE blue box (meaning anyone who comes to this precinct cannot vote), we are missing 2 election judges & nobody is answering our calls. pic.twitter.com/aPfmZ5McCt— rebecca (@rebeccapearl21) March 17, 2020
In Arizona, polling places had already closed over the past week as officials prepared for a glut of voters in reduced voting centers. At a press conference Saturday announcing the closures and the steps the board of elections would take, elections supervisor Scott Jarrett abruptly said, "I can't do this," and walked away from the microphones.
While announcing that over a third of polling locations in Maricopa County, AZ will be closed, the Election Day Director says "I'm sorry, I can't do this." and walks off the podium. pic.twitter.com/9IDtgu1L4z— The Convo Couch (@theconvocouch) March 14, 2020
As the Associated Press reports, the disease's outbreak across the U.S. has thrown the primary election—which appeared virtually over just a week ago—into chaos and uncertainty:
The coming weeks will present additional uncertainties. After Tuesday, the campaign had been set to shift to Georgia next week, but officials there have already postponed their Democratic primary until May 19. That means voting isn't scheduled again anywhere until March 29 in Puerto Rico—and island officials are also seeking a delay.
The first week in April, meanwhile, would have featured Louisiana, but its decision to delay the primary until June 20 leaves only primaries in far-flung Alaska and Hawaii and caucuses in Wyoming through April 4. That could leave the campaign in further limbo, perhaps prolonging a primary race that might otherwise have been wrapped up.
While uncertainty and chaos reigned in the three states, observers questioned the wisdom of holding the elections in the face of health professionals and federal officials urging against it.
"Officials who promised that they had extremely serious plans to make voting in person in the middle of a pandemic safe were not telling the truth," said Jacobin's Meagan Day. "It's exactly what it sounded like: asking people to risk their health and public safety in order [to] exercise their right to vote."