Floridians choose between Biden, Sanders amid outbreak fears

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:
Polling station volunteer Dimitri Uglialoro waits for voters for the Florida presidential primary, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Bonita Springs, Fla. Floridians are voting across the state as election officials manage losses of poll workers and changes to polling places because of the coronavirus. There had been concern some polling places might not open on time Tuesday because of worker absences, but no problems have been reported. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Election officials across Florida scrambled to run Tuesday’s presidential primary as smoothly as possible amid the new coronavirus outbreak, making last-minute changes to consolidate voting sites as poll workers dropped out.

Polls officially opened at 7 a.m., but it was possible some stations wouldn’t be able to accommodate voters if not enough poll workers showed up.

Some polling places could not open because workers didn’t show up because of the coronavirus. The Palm Beach County elections department said many workers failed to show up in at least five locations. The county had 800 volunteers back out as of Monday, with 100 new volunteers offering to take their place.

Gov. Ron DeSantis decided Monday to push ahead with the voting, saying he believed the election could be run safely despite the outbreak. Also voting on Tuesday were Illinois and Arizona. After Ohio’s health director ordered polls closed there, that state’s election was rescheduled for June 2.

“We’re not going to panic,” DeSantis said. He said polling places likely wouldn’t have large crowds on Tuesday, in part because many voters have made their choices already via mail or early voting. “I think you can do it in a way that’s going to protect people.”

About 1.9 million of the state’s voters had voted by mail or at early voting centers as of Monday afternoon, according to statistics from the Division of Elections.

A coalition of progressive groups is suing Florida in an attempt to extend mail-in balloting for the presidential primary into next week because of the coronavirus.

Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority and Organize Florida asked a federal judge on Tuesday to order Florida to allow voters to request a mail-in ballot through March 24 and postpone the count until March 27.

The groups cited the sudden relocation of 112 polling places in 22 counties and the fear voters will have if voting in-person is their only choice at this point. Also, college students have been suddenly sent home and cannot vote at their registered sites on or near campus, they said.

The state is distributing cleaning supplies to counties, including hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes, but Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Paul Lux said he had to send a staffer to Orlando to pick them up Sunday — a seven-hour drive when manpower is already lean. They came back with 15 tubs of disinfectant wipes, dispensers and 200 1-ounce (30-milliliter) bottles of hand sanitizer for poll workers to share at their tables.


Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.

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