MIAMI (Reuters) – Voters in three states were met by gloved poll workers and hand sanitizer dispensers as they cast ballots under the threat of the coronavirus on Tuesday, with Joe Biden looking to bolster his lead in the Democratic U.S. presidential race. FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and
MIAMI (Reuters) – Voters in three states were met by gloved poll workers and hand sanitizer dispensers as they cast ballots under the threat of the coronavirus on Tuesday, with Joe Biden looking to bolster his lead in the Democratic U.S. presidential race.
FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders debate during the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, held in CNN’s Washington studios without an audience because of the global coronavirus pandemic, in Washington, U.S., March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
The former vice president hopes big victories in nominating contests in Arizona, Florida and Illinois can help him amass an unassailable advantage over rival Bernie Sanders in the race to choose a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Biden leads Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, in opinion polls in all three states.
Ohio also had been scheduled to vote on Tuesday, but Governor Mike DeWine said public health concerns made in-person voting too dangerous and postponed the election to June 2.
“Our goal is that no one will have to choose between their constitutional rights and risking their health,” DeWine told a news conference on Tuesday, adding that going ahead with the vote would have been “a real, real disaster.”
There were signs coronavirus concerns had hurt turnout on Tuesday, though officials also noted that early voting and voting by mail had surged. That could still boost overall turnout above the levels in the 2016 Democratic primary.
In Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, state officials reported around 85,000 votes cast as of 1 p.m. In 2012, when Republicans had a competitive race and Democrats had an incumbent, more than 280,000 votes were cast.
In Arizona, Adrian Fontes, the top election official in Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, said turnout was lower than normal.
Poll locations in Miami, some outfitted with handwashing stations, disinfecting wipes and portable bathrooms, appeared mostly quiet, as workers wore blue gloves to avoid infection.
Voters appeared to have heeded warnings and cast ballots ahead of Tuesday whenever possible. In Florida, about 1.1 million Democratic ballots had been cast by mail or at early-voting centers through Monday, more than the 890,000 Democrats who voted early in 2016, according to state officials.
In Illinois, nearly 800,000 votes had been cast by mail or through early voting – a substantial increase from 2016.
Officials in the three states had assured the public it was safe to vote despite fears about the coronavirus, which has dramatically altered American life, forced the campaigns to abandon public events and prompted other states to postpone future elections.
The states took precautions such as moving polling places away from assisted-living facilities, even as some scrambled to find more poll workers to replace those who had backed out.
On Monday, the White House recommended avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people and closing bars and restaurants. Schools, businesses, sporting events and cultural events have been shuttered across the country.
Tracy Finger, 53, wore a face mask as he cast a vote for Sanders in Miami on Tuesday. He said he expected the pandemic would offer the eventual Democratic nominee a political boost given the Trump administration’s response, which has drawn criticism for a lack of urgency.
‘A PERSONAL DECISION’
Armed with hand sanitizer in his jacket pocket, Bill Monnin, a 60-year-old bartender who was recently laid off because of a lack of business due to the coronavirus, went to cast his ballot in Chicago.
“It’s important, it’s our responsibility,” he said as he walked into Kilmer Elementary School on Chicago’s north side. “It’s not an impossible situation yet. You don’t have to stay home.”
Inside, poll workers routinely wiped down surfaces and had made “X” marks with tape on the floor six feet apart to help waiting voters keep their distance.
Biden has taken command of the contest in the past two weeks, scoring victories in 16 of the last 21 state contests and building a lead of roughly 150 delegates over Sanders in the chase for the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at July’s Democratic convention.
Sanders could face renewed pressure to end his bid if he loses badly on Tuesday. Many Democrats do not want a repeat of 2016, when they believe Sanders’ long, bitter primary battle with Hillary Clinton played a role in her upset loss to Trump.
Several states have postponed their presidential primaries, including Georgia, which had been scheduled to vote on March 24; Louisiana, on April 4; Maryland, on April 28; and Kentucky, on May 19.
For a graphic on Calendar of each state’s Democratic nominating contest and its allocated delegates:
For a graphic on Delegate tracker and results:
For a graphic on Where the candidates stand on key issues:
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, John Whitesides, Jason Lange and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Mary Milliken, Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller