After months of hearing stories of the coronavirus in Asia and Europe, the disease finally entered the US at full force. By March 11 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. This immediately caused a nation-wide panic and encouragement to stay home to “lower the curve” of those infected. However, in the near peak of the Democratic Presidential Primaries, some states decided the show must go on for voters.
Florida is one of the states who decided to keep polls open and overall voting turnout suffered due to this decision. Despite the overall turnout decrease, Democrats actually voted more by a small margin this year (1,711,881 votes) than in 2016 (1,709,183 votes). Overall voting still suffered with even early voting going down by 40%. Analysts are placing the low turnout numbers on not only coronavirus fears but also the Republicans having a locked-in candidate (President Donald Trump). Despite the setbacks, former Vice President Joe Biden’s campaign team released a memo stating that they “believe that, with early vote and vote by mail, overall turnout will be roughly on pace for 2016 in Arizona and Florida.”
Despite Florida’s decision to move past the threat of COVID-19 and continue primaries, certain states decided to push back their primaries. Maryland, Kentucky, Puerto Rico, Georgia, Louisiana and Wyoming each decided to postpone or suspend in-person primaries/caucuses.
I honestly don’t understand how FL, AZ, OH, and IL will guarantee free and fair elections on Tuesday. If you want to vote but also want to stay home because you’re 65+ or have an underlying condition, what are you supposed to do?— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) March 15, 2020
People such as Jon Favreau and Puerto Rican Democratic Party chairman Charles Rodriguez believe moving back primaries and caucuses uphold democracy by giving more citizens the opportunity to vote. “Postponing the primary will also ensure a larger turnout for many Puerto Ricans to express their support for a permanent union with the U.S. and the need for the territory to assert itself, with real decision-making power, as part of the democratic processes of the nation,” Rodriguez said to USA Today.
We’re in uncharted territory where debates must be held with candidates six feet apart and primaries and caucuses are forced to change their dates due to public health concerns. For now, it’s a two-man race between senator Bernie Sanders and Vice President Joe Biden. Time will tell if COVID-19 will continue its interference in the election and voter turnout as the race morphs into a different two-man race: President Donald Trump and the Democratic candidate.