Ignoring urgent pleas from medical professionals and other health experts to postpone primary elections amid the coronavirus outbreak, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez late Tuesday encouraged states to go ahead with their scheduled contests, claiming "we can in fact have voting and protect our workers, our voters, our candidates."
"I think it's a false choice to suggest we either have to protect safety or protect and ensure our democracy," Perez said in an interview with NPR late Tuesday as voters in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois went to the polls despite widespread calls for a delay. Former Vice President Joe Biden swept all three states.
"Deeply disappointed that the DNC is willfully choosing not to listen to scientists during one of the most critical moments in recent history."
—Dr. Lucky Tran
"What you saw in Arizona today, and in Florida, was in Arizona more people voted early than voted in the entirety of the Democratic primary in 2016," Perez said.
In a statement earlier Tuesday, Perez critized Ohio's widely praised decision to delay its presidential primary, asserting that it "only bred more chaos and confusion."
Critics argued that Perez's position runs counter to the recommendations of scientists—as well as the federal government—and could put countless lives at risk.
"Deeply disappointed that the DNC is willfully choosing not to listen to scientists during one of the most critical moments in recent history," tweeted biologist Dr. Lucky Tran.
Pointing to a video of an elderly Illinois resident voicing alarm Tuesday about conditions at her polling site—where she said hundreds of people, including vulnerable seniors, were gathered in a room for hours at a time—The Intercept's Ryan Grim ripped Perez for permitting such a potentially disastrous situation.
"That Tom Perez is encouraging this, and threatening states who postpone in-person voting, is criminal," Grim tweeted, referring to a DNC memo sent last Wednesday warning that states could face a "delegate penalty" if they push back their scheduled elections.
"It's not out of the question that when this is over there could be demands for prosecutions of those who knowingly did this," Grim said.
Puerto Rico is set to hold its Democratic presidential primary on March 29, followed by contests on April 4 in Alaska, Hawaii, and Wyoming.
That @TomPerez is encouraging this, and threatening states who postpone in-person voting, is criminal. It’s not out of the question that when this is over there could be demands for prosecutions of those who knowingly did this. https://t.co/4DpOygKtXE
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) March 17, 2020
Ahead of Tuesday's primaries, more than 1,600 people—including at least 100 medical professionals—signed an open letter demanding that the DNC and secretaries of state to delay primary contests until at least May, a move that would allow states to implement alternatives to in-person voting if needed.
"By postponing primaries, state governments will be able to keep resources focused, and they will not need to worry about the distraction of running primaries while responding to this pandemic," the letter reads. "This will also give time for the states to implement alternative voting mechanisms, such as vote-by-mail, at a sufficient scale if the pandemic continues to be an emergency for these states."
"As people are understandably avoiding public places and crowds, we expect turnout to be depressed. Rescheduling the primaries would ensure that more people are allowed to exercise their right to vote without fear," the letter continues. "For the health of our fellow citizens and our democracy, please act now to postpone the upcoming March primaries until May."