The Latest: DNC chair urges vote-by-mail in primary states

By The Associated Press | Updated - Mar. 17, 2020 at 3:50 p.m. | Posted - Mar. 17, 2020 at 5:45 a.m.


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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the Democratic presidential primaries (all times local):

5:15 p.m.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez is calling on states with upcoming presidential primaries to use vote-by-mail and other measures to make it safe for people to vote because of the coronavirus outbreak.

In a lengthy statement issued as three state held primaries Tuesday, Perez was critical of Ohio officials for postponing their primary on the eve of voting. Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine made the call Monday night, while officials in Arizona, Florida and Illinois decided to go ahead with in-person voting on Tuesday. Perez did not name DeWine, a Republican, but said the delay “has only bred more chaos and confusion.”

Perez said states that already have mail voting should “proactively mail ballots to registered voters, where feasible, and should count all ballots ... postmarked by the date of the primary.”

He also suggested expanding days and hours of early, in person voting and expanding absentee voting to all registered voters. Some state laws allow absentee voting for a limited number of reasons.

Georgia, Maryland, Louisiana, Ohio and Kentucky have postponed upcoming primaries.

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4:20 p.m.

A Chicago elections official and Illinois' governor are trading accusations of culpability as city voters reported problems casting ballots after days of public debate over whether the state's primary should be postponed because of the coronavirus threat.

Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners, said Tuesday morning that the board asked Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week to cancel in-person voting and expand other options, including mail-in ballots, but the governor refused. Allen says Chicago election officials had proposed a move to entirely mail-in ballots.

Pritzker responded heatedly at a daily briefing on the coronavirus cases in the state. He said state law does not give a governor the authority to make the sweeping changes that Chicago election officials wanted.

Pritzker says he will not use this situation “to supersede my constitutional authority.” He says it is “times like these when the constitutional boundaries of our democracy should be respected above all else.” And he says, "If people want to criticize me for that, well, go ahead. I’ll wear it like a badge of honor.”

Pritzker also said the Chicago board turned down offers for help to staff polls using the National Guard and a statewide program that connects teenagers with civic opportunities.

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12:30 p.m.

Election officials in Illinois scrambled to find alternate locations as nursing homes and other typical polling sites backed out amid concern over the coronavirus. There were signs of confusion about the changes on Tuesday morning.

Timna Axel, director of communications for the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, said voters have been calling the group's hotline all morning to get help finding their polling places.

The steady flow of calls — including from some polling place workers — is “unusual for a primary,” Axel said.

“We all understand that these are really unusual circumstances and we all want eligible voters not to be disenfranchised,” Axel said. "We're going to need to work together to make sure they can actually cast a ballot today."

In suburban Will County, all polling places opened on time and were staffed thanks to people who volunteered to fill the spots of election judges who decided against working. Charles Pelkie, chief of staff for the county clerk, said at least 200 judges had canceled by Monday.

“We've been very fortunate that the public is stepping up,” he said.

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12:40 p.m.

People are showing up for the Democratic presidential primary at Ohio polling places that are closed because of the coronavirus threat.

Certified public accountant Brian Anaya walked up to his polling place early Tuesday morning only to learn the election had been called off after all.

Anaya tells The Columbus Dispatch he heard about a judge's ruling that the election would go forward but not that the state health director had responded by closing the polls on the grounds of a health emergency. Anaya says his wife was uncomfortable going to the polls anyway.

Voting is going ahead in Arizona, Illinois and Florida despite virus fears. But election officials in an Illinois county are encouraging poll workers to use blue painter’s tape to mark the floor every 6 feet so voters can keep their distance while waiting in line because of the virus.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is hoping to widen his lead over Sanders in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary.

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11:40 a.m.

A Chicago election spokesman says there was a scramble to relocate about 50 polling places after locations canceled at the last minute and said they would not be available for use on primary day.

The delivery of election equipment had to be shifted to new sites Tuesday, delaying their opening as polling places. It's unclear how many of the new sites are up and running.

No reason was given for the cancellations.

Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen says turnout was slow early in the morning, likely due to people working from home because of the coronavirus.

Allen says he would call “conducting an election during a global pandemic when people are afraid to go to a polling place a curse.”

In Ohio, health officials postponed the state's scheduled election, citing public health concerns. In Florida, some poll workers didn't show up because of virus fears. Officials in Arizona are moving forward with their vote.

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11 a.m.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign says it will have an online rally featuring Neil Young and Daryl Hannah. Tuesday night's rally will be like one on Monday night.

The Sanders campaign says it is not organizing any get out the vote activities because it believes going to the polls amid the coronavirus pandemic is a personal choice and it wants to respect what people decide either way. The campaign has sent supporters updated federal guidelines on the outbreak but isn't instructing them way on how to follow the guidelines.

Former Vice President Joe Biden is hoping to widen his lead over Sanders in Tuesday's Democratic presidential primary.

In Ohio, health officials postponed the state's scheduled election, citing public health concerns. In Florida, some poll workers didn't show up because of virus fears. Officials in Arizona and Illinois are moving forward with their votes.

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9:15 a.m.

Election officials in an Illinois county are encouraging poll workers to use blue painter’s tape to mark the floor every 6 feet so voters can keep their distance while waiting in line because of the coronavirus.

Cook County Clerk Karen A. Yarbrough took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to share a photo of a roll of blue tape, a piece of string and a tape measure along with a note that read, “People will get too close.”

The note instructs leaders to encourage poll workers to “#MarkTheFloor,” adding “THIS PICTURE CAN SAVE LIVES.”

President Donald Trump on Monday announced new guidelines urging people to avoid crowds of 10 or more but said elections don’t need to be postponed.

In Ohio, health officials postponed the state's scheduled election, citing public health concerns. In Florida, some poll workers didn't show up because of virus fears. Officials in Arizona say they're moving forward with their votes.

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8:40 a.m.

Some Florida polling places have been unable to open as workers didn't show up because of coronavirus fears.

The Palm Beach County elections department says many workers failed to show up in at least five locations Tuesday. The county had 800 volunteers back out as of Monday, with 100 new volunteers offering to take their places.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he believes the election can be run safely.

In Ohio, health officials postponed the state's scheduled election, citing public health concerns. Officials in Arizona and Illinois say they're moving forward with their votes.

Joe Biden is hoping to widen his lead over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary.

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8:30 a.m.

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.

In Ohio, health officials postponed the state's scheduled election. Officials in Arizona and Illinois say they're moving forward with their votes.

In Illinois, Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough said shortly after the polls opened that she had heard of no problems at the county's polling sites and expected “things to go well" Tuesday. Yarbrough says she's “hopeful" the county will have "a good day voting for the people.”

Joe Biden is hoping to widen his lead over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary.

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8:15 a.m.

Polls are closed in Ohio on a day that was scheduled for a presidential primary.

The polls didn't open on Tuesday morning after state officials just hours earlier took the extraordinary step to postpone the state’s primary amid coronavirus fears.

Late Monday, state officials declared a health emergency out of fear of exposing voters and volunteer poll workers to the virus. Many of the voters and workers are elderly, considered among the most vulnerable to the virus.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a video posted overnight on Twitter that it became clear Monday that it was “not going to be possible to conduct an election in a way that was going to be safe for Ohioans.” LaRose pointed to revised federal guidelines that call on Americans to not gather in groups of more than 10 people and urge older people to stay home.

LaRose says in-person voting has been rescheduled for June 2 and voters can cast their ballots by mail.

Arizona, Florida and Illinois are going ahead with their plans for primary voting.

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7:45 a.m.

The polls are open in most of Florida for the presidential primary. Precincts are open in all parts of Florida except the Panhandle, which is on Central Time, not Eastern.

Election officials in areas across the state Tuesday were managing losses of poll workers and changes to polling places because of the coronavirus. If not enough poll workers show up, it's possible some polling places might not be able to open.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis says he believes the election can be run safely.

A coalition of progressive groups is suing Florida in an attempt to extend mail-in balloting into next week because of the coronavirus. Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority and Organize Florida want a federal judge to order Florida to allow voters to request mail-in ballots through March 24 and postpone the count until March 27.

In Ohio, health officials postponed the state's scheduled election. Officials in Arizona and Illinois say they're moving forward with the vote.

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Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

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