PHOENIX - Voters going to the polls Tuesday for Arizona’s primaries will find larger venues to allow for social distancing and poll workers wearing masks as the tradition of casting a ballot adjusts to the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of those who will vote have already done so by mail or at an early voting location. In-person voting options, however, are in place around the state.
In Maricopa County, election officials dropped assigned polling places and are instead opening 99 vote centers that accommodate all voters in the county, regardless of where they live. The county shifted many sites from the smaller libraries, community centers, and churches to larger venues like convention centers, malls, and retail facilities, said Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the county elections department.
Poll workers will wear masks, gloves and face shields; disinfect common areas and sanitize pens after each use, she said.
Many voters have returned their mail ballots
As of July 29, more than 823,000 voters had returned their mail ballots, according to a tabulation by The Associated Press. That’s about 70% of the ballots that were sent out. Other organizations are reporting an even higher number of ballots.
"We are now officials over 1.1 million ballots cast, and we are on pace to cast more ballots in this election cycle than ever before in the State of Arizona," said George Khalaf with Data Orbital.
Khalaf, who is a former Republican Party staffer, staffer says one person is likely responsible for the high turnout in Arizona’s primary.
"I mean, I think everything goes back to President Trump," said Khalaf. "I mean, he has caused enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle, with Republicans and Democrats. I think what's interesting to note about this is that usually, enthusiasm is not connected to what happens in the general election."
“We have already seen historic participation in this primary election compared to other Maricopa County primary elections,” Gilbertson said.
At one voting center in Scottsdale of August 3, a trickle of voters were seen dropping off ballots or going in for absentee voting.]
"I think people have their opinion that it's an important election, and they have to get out and vote," said voter Kelly Tseunis, who was dropping off her ballot.
Few big-ticket contests for primary
While Arizona will be in the national spotlight in November as a presidential battleground and the home of one of the most closely watched Senate contests in the country, the primaries feature few big-ticket contests.
Republican Sen. Martha McSally faces a challenge from businessman Daniel McCarthy, who is running to her right with an anti-government message and an appeal to voters who think the response to the pandemic is infringing on individual freedoms. But he’s not well-known and has spent little money to introduce himself to voters.
Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, faces only a write-in opponent for the Democratic nomination.
A McSally-Kelly contest would pit two former combat pilots against each other in the race to finish the last two years of John McCain’s last term in the Senate. McCain died in 2018, McSally was appointed to the seat and faces a tough battle to hold onto it.
Among U.S. House races, none is more prominent than the 6th District covering much of north Phoenix, Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills, and Scottsdale. Four Democrats are seeking the chance to take on scandal-scarred Republican Rep. David Schweikert in a heavily Republican district. Democrats hope the seat could be in play thanks to a long-running ethics investigation of Schweikert and a growing skepticism of the GOP among white voters with a college degree.
Incumbent Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran in the sprawling 1st District is facing a primary challenge from progressive champion Eva Putzova, while three Republicans are facing off to see who will be their party’s candidate in the Democratic-leaning district.
A number of state legislative districts also face ideological battles among either the Republicans or Democrats.
Election officials across the state have encouraged voters to request a mail ballot, and some have expanded options for early voting to reduce crowds on Election Day.
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The Associated Press (AP) contributed to this report.