Primaries get underway amid coronavirus pandemic: Live Updates

(NEW YORK) — Voters in Arizona, Florida and Illinois head to the polls on Tuesday amid a global pandemic that has upended the 2020 election cycle.

Three states — Louisiana, Georgia and Kentucky — have successfully postponed their presidential primaries and the Puerto Rican government is working to do likewise with its Democratic primary.

However, voters in Ohio, a critical general election battleground that has 136 Democratic delegates at play this primary cycle, won’t be casting ballots as planned Tuesday after the governor announced late Monday that he and the director of the state’s health department had issued an order to close the polls, citing a health emergency. A judge blocked the state’s effort to postpone the contest just hours earlier.

Here’s how the primaries are unfolding.

5: 26 p.m. Biden prevailed over Bernie Sanders in trust to handle a crisis in telephone surveys

According to preliminary results from the National Election Pool’s election polls on the Arizona, Florida and Illinois Democratic primaries, former Vice President Joe Biden prevailed over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in trust to handle a crisis in telephone surveys in advance of today’s Democratic primary elections in Arizona, Florida and Illinois. With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the world, health care was a high-level concern.

Given the pandemic, exit polls were not conducted in these states; instead telephone surveys were fielded March 9-15 in Arizona and Florida and March 13-16 in Illinois. The surveys cover early voters (who predominate in Arizona), and people who said they intended to vote in person today (a sizable share in Florida and Illinois). The departure from customary exit polls in Florida and Illinois requires caution in interpreting the results.

In preliminary results, survey respondents picked Biden over Sanders as the candidate they trust more to handle a crisis by 71-23 percent in Florida, 64-31 percent in Illinois and 63-31 percent in Arizona. (A telephone survey in Ohio was canceled after the primary was halted there.)

The numbers who called health care the top issue in their vote (out of four issues listed) reached 47 percent in Arizona and 43 percent in Florida and Illinois – far and away the top mention in these states.

Again, the Florida and Illinois results, in particular, may be different from the views of actual voters, especially if large numbers of people who intended to vote in person today end up staying home because of concerns about the new coronavirus. (Forty-one percent in the Illinois survey and 30 percent in Florida said they’d vote today.) In Arizona, with the vast majority voting by mail, a telephone survey rather than an exit poll was planned all along.

ABC News’ Polling Director Gary Langer reports.

5:12 p.m. DNC urges states to push early voting, especially mail-in ballots

While there’s nothing binding in an election-night statement from Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, he is urging states that have not yet voted to push early voting — especially mail-in ballots — in lieu of pushing back primaries.

The DNC has complicated rules about when primaries can be held and has suggested that some states changing their dates could lose delegates at the Democrats’ convention.

“What happened in Ohio last night has only bred more chaos and confusion, and the Democratic party leadership in Ohio is working tirelessly to protect the right to vote,” according to the statement. “Eligible voters deserve certainty, safety, and accessibility. That’s why states that have not yet held primary elections should focus on implementing the aforementioned measures to make it easier and safer for voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote, instead of moving primaries to later in the cycle when timing around the virus remains unpredictable.”

Earlier Tuesday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine defended his decision to close polls for the state’s primary in response to the evolving novel coronavirus pandemic on ABC’s “The View.” He said that the state “did not defy any court order” despite a judge denying the state’s request to postpone the contest until June.

“It was not a specific court order. We did not defy any court order,” DeWine said. “The Ohio Supreme Court, later in the night in a separate case, basically said that the elections could be stopped, so we did not defy anything.”

“This is about protecting Ohio citizens’ lives. As governor, I have the obligation to do everything I can to protect people,” said DeWine.

ABC News Political Director Rick Klein and ABC News’ Joanne Rosa report

2:40 p.m. One-time GOP congressman votes for Biden

Former long-shot Trump challenger and one-time Republican congressman Joe Walsh announced on Twitter Tuesday he voted for a Democrat for the first time for president, casting his ballot for Joe Biden. Walsh’s home state of Illinois is voting today.

“You see, Donald Trump is a horrible human being. He must be defeated,” Walsh added.

Walsh ended his campaign three days after the Iowa caucuses.

2:16 p.m. Yang’s team ‘offering resources’ to White House for possible stimulus checks

Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate and universal basic income advocate, announced Tuesday that his team was in touch with the White House as they consider sending checks to Americans impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

“We are doing anything we can to help,” Yang said on CNN. “This is a crisis and we all need to pull together to try to keep the country strong and whole.”

Yang’s signature campaign proposal was to give $1000 a month to every American citizen who opts into the program regardless of income. Today, he seemed to add to his proposal, saying that an additional $500 should be distributed per child.

“I look forward to monitoring the developments of the White House as they consider methods of distribution, and both me and my team are eager to offer.”

12:29 p.m. Biden fundraising email: We’re working — virtually — to beat Trump

In a new fundraising email sent Tuesday, former vice president Joe Biden’s campaign asks: “What does a presidential campaign look like in these uncertain times?”

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, the campaign said they’re bolstering their web operations as more Americans opt to stay at home.

“We’re still doing the same things we did before. We’re working with elected officials who endorse us to hold events, talk to voters, and push out policy plans. It’s just all online now,” the email said.

But the campaign acknowledges they’re still figuring it out as they go.

The campaign’s ‘virtual town hall’ on Friday with Illinois voters faced major technical issues, and they skipped the video element altogether for their virtual town hall Monday, opting to connect voters with Biden via telephone.

“We’re going to keep building (and learning!) together, which is why even when plans change, our fundraising goals still remain critically important,” the email continued.

ABC News’ Molly Nagle reports.

9:58 a.m. Sanders campaign shifts away from traditional outreach

While ballots were being cast in Arizona, Florida and Illinois, the Sanders campaign announced it would not be doing traditional get-out-the-vote outreach amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The campaign had already shifted away from in-person contact at rallies and door-to-door canvassing and have pushed their volunteers to sign up for phone/text banking shifts instead.

While there are volunteers contacting voters by phone, the message Tuesday was to let voters know that going to the polls is a “personal choice.” “We are making clear to voters that we believe going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision and we respect whichever choice they make,” according to a statement from Mike Casca, communications director. “We are also passing along guidance from the CDC on staying safe during the crisis.

ABC News’ Averi Harper reports

Coronavirus, candidates and the 2020 elections:

As ABC News’ Quinn Scanlan writes, the mercurial nature of this season’s primaries has significantly escalated in a short number of days. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have both run for the presidential office before, but never in a race like this.

By ABC News’ count, Biden is leading Sanders in the delegate race, 841-690. But with more than half of the total delegates still up for grabs, and a rapidly evolving global pandemic that’s upending all facets of life in the United States, the race to 1,991 pledged delegates — the number needed to win the nomination — may not be as settled as political pundits once thought.

In both Illinois, where there are at least 105 confirmed coronavirus cases, and Arizona, where there are at least 18 confirmed cases, the entities overseeing the elections defended the decision to continue with the primaries as planned, despite the developments in Ohio.

For those who do show up to cast ballots the old-fashioned way, steps are being taking in each state to adhere to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and keep voters at ease as they fulfill their civic duty in the midst of a crisis.

In Palm Beach County, where nearly a quarter of the population is over 65 years old, Wendy Sartory Link, the supervisor of elections there, told ABC News that no more than 50 people at one time will be allowed inside a polling site, and voters have been encouraged to bring their own pens and to make use of available hand sanitizer before and after voting.

In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health issued a directive with recommended guidance on keeping polling locations as sanitary as possible, including routinely disinfecting “frequently touched surfaces” like voting machines, and offering hand sanitizer to voters before or after they cast their ballots.

Sangamon County, Illinois, Clerk Don Gray posted a video to Twitter that said voting booths in his locality will be six feet apart, adhering to social distancing recommendations.

All three states had early voting and vote-by-mail options — and the hope is that these methods will help mitigate the overcrowding and long lines typically expected at polling sites, which are now facing the additional obstacles of a shortage of workers and numerous site closures in the past week.

In Arizona, roughly 944,000 active Democratic voters received ballots in the mail, according to the secretary of state’s office. In Florida, more than 1 million ballots have already been cast in the Democratic primary, either in person or by mail, which is already more than 60% of 2016’s total turnout for the primary. In Illinois, early voting is surpassing record levels, with about 504,000 votes cast in the state’s primary as of Monday morning, plus an additional 111,000 mail-in ballots counted.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Democratic Party cited these metrics as reasons they’re “optimistic” about high turnout for the Democratic primary, while also using them to downplay the possibility of busy, crowded polling locations throughout the state, which, unlike Florida and Arizona, is also holding its down ballot races on Tuesday.

Among some of the most at-risk populations when it comes to coronavirus are older voters, who are typically more reliable voters, and this cycle, they’ve also shown themselves to be reliable Biden voters, backing him by a wide margin, according to exit polls from states that have already cast ballots. And young voters, some of the least reliable to show up on Election Day, are overwhelmingly supporting Sanders, much like they did in 2016.

As local officials adjust to the unprecedented circumstances presented by the coronavirus, it remains to be seen how exactly the pandemic will ultimately affect turnout with voters and poll workers rattled by the rapidly spreading disease.

Before the outbreak, Democrats were, for the most part, at least breaking 2016 turnout numbers across respective states, but whether the same will be true for the three states moving forward with their nominating contests on Tuesday remains unclear given the unique environment.

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