How the Coronavirus Changed Tuesday's Democratic Primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio
As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.
As Democratic voters across the country decide who should be the party’s nominee to run against President Donald Trump in November — former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are the leading contenders — state primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio felt the impact of the coronavirus’ spread.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine made a last-minute push to preserve his state’s primary voting by declaring a “health emergency” late Monday and ordered polls to be closed on Tuesday after the Trump administration asked Americans earlier in the day to refrain from gathering in groups of more than 10 people.
The state’s Supreme Court upheld the Republican governor’s decision early Tuesday, likely delaying the primary until June.
“Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans,” DeWine tweeted in a lengthy thread Monday night. “They mustn’t be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional rights.”
With Ohio’s change, 441 delegates are up for grabs Tuesday in Arizona, Florida and Illinois. (Republican voters are technically also casting ballots for their candidate, but the president has overwhelmingly won state contests among conservatives so far, in what has basically amounted to a formality.)
Primaries were largely hindered Tuesday with low voter turnout amid the federal government’s recommendation that people stay home and practice “social distancing” to help stop the rate of new infections.
Biden, 77, led Sanders, 78, in polling in every state scheduled to vote Tuesday, according to polling averages by RealClear Politics.
The former vice president is the Democratic front-runner after he mounted a dramatic comeback over the past month and surpassed Sanders in the total delegate count, primary wins and polling numbers.
In Illinois, Chicago city officials told reporters they saw “extremely low turnout” on Tuesday morning and pushed for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to follow suit with Ohio and delay the primary.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city saw historic early voting numbers that could help total turnout numbers, but some residents reportedly said they never received their early voting ballots and didn’t feel comfortable risking a trip to the polls.
In Florida — a swing state in the 2020 general election — Democrats looked to show strong support for a candidate after Trump won in a tight contest there in 2016 with then-Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
The state’s governor, Gov. Ron DeSantis, told reporters at a COVID-19 briefing over the weekend that “we’re definitely voting.”
“They voted during the Civil War,” he said, according to Politico. “We’re going to vote.”
Florida’s Secretary of State Laurel Lee told The New York Times that more than two million early voting ballots had been cast ahead of Tuesday’s primary vote.
In Arizona, where Biden is expected to win big over Sanders, voting was still on Tuesday as well.
Louisiana and Georgia have both pushed back their primary dates: Georgia has postponed its primary until May 19, while Louisiana pushed its primary back to June 20.
Kentucky postponed its May primary until June 23, while New York is considering the same date.
Puerto Rico has also delayed its primary vote later this month until April 26.
Both Biden and Sanders have halted in-person campaign events as the world community moves toward isolation and social distancing in a bid to blunt the risks of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 7,000 people.
The public health emergency upended the Democratic candidates’ plans to hit the campaign trail hard as the party’s primary contest has largely been left between them (though Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard still remains in the race, albeit with minimal support and no primary wins).
On Sunday, Biden and Sanders debated in Washington, D.C., without an audience after health officials increasingly urged Americans to avoid gathering in large groups — ultimately forcing the candidates, as well as President Trump, to cancel their scheduled campaign events in the near future.
The Democratic Party opted against a live audience for Sunday’s debate, which was then moved to host CNN’s TV studios in D.C.
“I am very careful about the people I am interacting with,” Sanders said during the debate, noting that his entire campaign staff is working from home. “I am using a lot of soap and hand sanitizers to make sure that I do not get the infection.”
The candidates have shifted toward using their political platforms to raise awareness about coronavirus safety and criticize the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic.
The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. surpassed 5,000 as of Tuesday afternoon, while the number of deaths in America reached 93. Worldwide, there were about 196,000 confirmed cases.
“Coronavirus is bigger than any one of us,” Biden tweeted Monday. “Please take care of yourself, wash your hands, and practice social distancing. We will get through this — together.”
To prevent the spread of the virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages maintaining basic forms of hygiene including careful hand washing, avoiding touching the face, moving away from people who are coughing or sneezing and staying home at signs of illness.