Four states will hold their primary contests on Tuesday night, despite Georgia and Louisiana each postponing their elections previously scheduled for a few weeks later over concerns of the spreading Wuhan virus.
Louisiana was the first state to make the decision, announcing on Friday it would hold its primaries on June 20 instead of April 4 as originally planned. Georgia, which had its primaries scheduled for March 24 has now moved its elections to May 19.
Arizona, Florida, Ohio, and Illinois however, will proceed with their primaries on Tuesday as planned even as large public gatherings, restaurants, bars and schools shut down in each state.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders have each cancelled rallies and public appearances in the final week leading up to the next round of state contests, conducting virtual campaign events instead, and participating in a no-audience debate Sunday night.
Sanders raised concerns over the four states moving onward with their elections this week despite massive cancellations and closures nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued new guidance this weekend recommending no gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks. These social distancing recommendations aim to keep the spread of the outbreak from overwhelming hospitals ill-equipped to manage the coming caseload.
“I would hope governors listen to the public health experts and what they are saying is… we don’t want gatherings of more than 50 people,” Sanders told the New York Times in a post-debate interview. “I’m thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people, all that stuff. It does not make a lot of sense. I’m not sure that it does.”
According to the Times, New York is also considering moving its primary contest from April 28 to June 23, and the Puerto Rico Democratic Party is also slated to request a postponement from March 29 to April 26.
Last week, several states still held their elections even as Biden and Sanders cancelled events while voting was taking place, including Washington which is the epicenter of the U.S. epidemic. On the day before the primaries, the CDC updated its guidance to encourage drive-in voting if permitted and urged polling workers to routinely clean voting machines. Idaho, North Dakota, Michigan, Mississippi, and Missouri each also held their primaries last Tuesday.
In the days since last week’s elections however, the threat over the virus has pushed panic to new heights, prompting cancellations and postponement of annual events nationwide such as music festivals and sporting events that draw millions. The NBA postponed its spring season and Ultra Music Festival is cancelled. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced a ban on travel from Europe to the U.S. as the pandemic worsens overseas. Over the weekend, the House of Representatives passed an economic stimulus package and the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates to a range of 0 to 0.25 percent, to prevent the economy from an abrupt halt.
As the virus spreads in the U.S., social distancing efforts promoted by public health authorities are encouraging people to stay home and will likely decrease turnout in the subsequent primaries. That consequence will no doubt be to Biden’s benefit as Sanders’ “turnout machine” message has already taken a hit in prior states only to be worsened by the current crisis.
As of Monday afternoon, Biden leads in the race to reach the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination with 894 to Sanders’ 743.