States strategize to protect voters as COVID-19 changes some primary plans

This week brings another batch of Democratic primaries, this time in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio. But a lot has changed since Super Tuesday. Lately, a lot changes every hour.

In a joint statement last Friday, top election officials from the four states with a primary scheduled on March 17 addressed concerns about COVID-19.

“Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past, and based on the best information we have from public health officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and securely cast their ballots in this election, and that otherwise healthy poll workers can and should carry out their patriotic duties on Tuesday,” they wrote.

Three days after Ohio’s top election official reassured voters that the primaries would continue as planned, the state’s situation seemed to be in flux. On Monday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine supported an eleventh hour lawsuit to push the state’s primary back.

“We cannot tell people to stay inside, but also tell them to go out and vote,” DeWine argued on Twitter.

On Monday evening, a state judge rejected the request. Judge Richard Frye ruled that it was too late to make changes to the Ohio primary and that there was no assurance that the risk posed by the novel coronavirus could still be present months later.

“The doctors giving briefings in the national media suggest it could be months before we get to the point where there is stability,” Frye said of the decision.

While Gov. DeWine requested that the primary be pushed back to June, an attorney for the Ohio Democratic Party requested that it be moved to April 28, the same day as Connecticut, New York and other states in the Northeast. But as of Monday night, Ohio’s primary will continue as planned.

In a Facebook post over the weekend, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, the state’s top election official, reassured voters that Ohio’s 88 county election boards have been working with the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health on safety practices to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“Voters should practice social distance in line, and though every effort is made to avoid it, some lines may be a bit longer, but none of this should discourage voters from participating,” LaRose said in a statement Sunday.

Ahead of its own Tuesday primary, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs issued some safety guidelines on Twitter.

In a statement, Hobbs said that the decision to continue with voting was “not made lightly” and that there might not be a safer time in the near future for voting to take place.

“My message to voters is, stay informed and make a decision that is right for you,” Hobbs said, mentioning curbside voting locations and drive-up ballot drop boxes.

On Twitter, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee encouraged residents to vote early and reassured residents that the state is “aware of voters’ concerns over #COVID19.” In an op-ed, Lee also noted that voters in assisted living facilities will be allowed to vote “without public exposure.”

In some states, polling locations have been relocated to mitigate the risks of the coronavirus. In any state voting Tuesday, primary voters are encouraged to double check their polling location before heading out to vote.

The state of Louisiana was the first to postpone its primary, which was set for April 4. Now, voting will take place on June 20. Georgia pushed its primary back two months from March 24 to May 19. The state of Kentucky will delay its own voting from May 19 to June 23.