PHOENIX - In the shadow of the coronavirus that has crippled parts of the nation, Arizona pressed ahead with its Democratic presidential preference election Tuesday after making changes to try to stop the spread of the disease.
Election officials statewide have consolidated polling places, worked to line up backup poll workers and emphasized disinfecting equipment as businesses, schools and other public places shut down to keep people from passing the virus. Some voters wore masks and tried to avoid crowds.
Most voted by mail, and Democratic turnout has already surpassed 2016.
The state’s top election official declined to seek a delay in voting, saying there was no certainty it would be safer to hold the election in the future. Florida and Illinois are moving ahead with their primaries Tuesday, while Ohio postponed.
Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said an army of election workers will have to process ballots in warehouses, which could get more dangerous as time goes on and the virus keeps spreading.
The Democratic ballot has 18 names, including more than a dozen candidates who have dropped out. But the race boils down to a face-off between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden.
“I was more nervous about the wrong candidate winning than I was about the virus at this point,” said Nisha Hindosha, a 50-year-old nurse from Tempe.
She said she voted for Biden, concerned that Sanders was too far to the left to beat Trump.
At a polling place in a Lutheran church in Phoenix, a steady stream of voters meant several people had to wait to enter until others left.
Ben Halloran, who is running for a Maricopa County constable position, was collecting signatures from fellow Democrats on nominating petitions at a table with disinfectant wipes and spray.
“I think we have a valid concern for health,” said Halloran, who wore medical gloves and avoided shaking hands.
Some counties scrambled to find last-minute replacements for poll workers who were concerned about the virus.
In northern Arizona, Coconino County had been recruiting poll workers to be on standby and had to replace 34 on Monday because they didn’t want to risk exposure, recorder Patty Hansen said.
Yavapai County had to replace a couple of poll workers, and Navajo County had to find a handful.
“A lot of our elderly poll workers are dedicated, and they want to be there. This is their civic duty,” Navajo County elections director Rayleen Richards said. “But their children are calling me and saying, ‘Can they not?’ That’s definitely understandable.”
In Arizona’s most populous county, 148 voting locations were staffed and operating, Maricopa County elections department spokeswoman Megan Gilbertson said. Three planned vote centers backed out Monday, she said.
Ben Keeney, a 22-year-old bartender from Tempe, said he was afraid he’d find a chaotic polling place, “but that’s not the case today.” He voted for Sanders, hoping to keep his candidacy alive despite Biden’s surge.
“I don’t think it’s completely sunk but it’s an uphill battle for sure,” Keeney said of Sanders’ shot at winning the nomination.
The vast majority of the 1.2 million registered Arizona Democrats cast ballots early by mail but about 300,000 can vote in person Tuesday. According to figures collected by The Associated Press, turnout among Democrats has already surpassed the 2016 election.
State officials say they’re taking precautions at polling places, including keeping people apart, regularly disinfecting equipment and telling poll workers to frequently wash their hands.
Ohio delayed its primary over public safety concerns, but Arizona, Florida and Illinois pressed ahead, even as two states scheduled to vote in the coming weeks — Louisiana and Georgia — postponed.
The COVID-19 virus for most people causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, particularly older people or those with underlying health conditions, it can cause more severe illness.
In Maricopa County, officials scrambled to consolidate from 229 to 151 polling places as nursing homes and churches backed out of serving as locations. The remaining polling places open until 7 p.m. are “vote anywhere centers” that allow any registered Democrats in the county to cast a ballot.
Sanders and Biden will vie for Arizona’s 67 possible delegates to the Democratic Convention. The remaining candidates will earn delegates if they get at least 15% of the vote. Dropped-out candidates can direct their delegates to back their favored candidate, but they are free to support who they want.
Republicans aren’t holding a primary for President Donald Trump. Libertarians chose delegates to their convention at a state party meeting.
Associated Press photographer Matt York in Phoenix and writers Paul Davenport in Phoenix and Felicia Fonseca in Flagstaff contributed.
In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
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