COLUMBUS, Ohio—Joe Biden won Ohios presidential primary Tuesday, clinching a contest that was less about the Democratic nomination and more about how states can conduct elections in the era of the CCP.
The primary was the first significant test of statewide elections via mail amid an outbreak caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus. And the results were mixed.
There were reports of confusion but no widespread disruption. It wasnt like Wisconsin earlier this month when voters were forced to overlook social distancing guidelines to stand in a line wearing masks to cast a ballot.
Still, overall turnout appeared to be off. The secretary of states office said that about 1.5 million votes had been cast as of midday Saturday, down sharply from the 3.2 million cast in Ohios 2016 presidential primary.
“Within the context of the threat of the virus, its a decision that we will have made the best of,” Republican Ken Blackwell, a former Ohio elections chief who chairs the bipartisan International Foundation for Electoral Systems, said of mail-in balloting.
The primary, initially scheduled for March 17, was delayed just hours before polls were supposed to open. Citing a “health emergency,” Republican Gov. Mike DeWine recommended that in-person balloting not be held until June 2. But amid legal challenges, officials moved balloting to this week while converting to a mail-in process since the state remains under a stay-at-home order.
Most Ohioans casting absentee ballots had to run at least three pieces of mail—an application, a blank ballot, and a completed one—through the U.S. Postal Service. Only homeless and disabled people were initially encouraged to cast in-person ballots at county election board offices, though anyone not receiving ballots by mail in time to participate could also turn up in person.
Lynne Marshall, of Sylvania, near the Ohio-Michigan border, opened her mailbox Tuesday and was disappointed to see that her ballot had not arrived after waiting months and making countless calls to the state and local election offices. She then agonized over whether to cast a vote in person at the election board and put her health at risk or stay home and skip an election for the first time that she can remember.
“What should I do?” she asked. “Im just really disgusted with it all. Of course, Ill feel guilty if I dont vote.”
With his last competitor, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, leaving the race weeks ago, Biden has emerged as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and the Ohio results were never in doubt. Still, moving to a mail-in primary on the fly was watched around the country as states with upcoming elections grapple with how to fulfill one of the most basic functions of American democracy, voting while battling the viruss spread.
Some governors have suggested they would consider moving to an all-mail voting system for the November general election.
Five states currently conduct all elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah, but none had to adopt such practices amid a pandemic.
Maryland was also balancing balloting and voter safety on Tuesday as polling centers conducted a special election to finish the term of the late Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings. Democrat Kweisi Mfume, a former NAACP leader, defeated Republican Kimberly Klacik in the congressional district, returning to the seat that he held before Cummings.
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