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‘Voting is safe,’ top state election chiefs declare ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary

A voter drops off a mail ballot for early voting at the Pinellas County Election Services County Building on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
A voter drops off a mail ballot for early voting at the Pinellas County Election Services County Building on Wednesday, March 11, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Mar. 13, 2020
Updated Mar. 13, 2020

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The top election officials in the four states holding primaries on Tuesday, including Florida, have a message for their residents: “voting is safe.”

“Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past, and based on the best information we have from public health officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and securely cast their ballots in this election,” Arizona Secretary of State Kathy Hobbs, Florida Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee, Illinois Elections Board Chairman Charles Scholz and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said in a statement.

The rare joint remarks came just moments after Louisiana announced it would postpone its April 4 primary because of the novel coronavirus. Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said he was particularly worried for poll workers, the majority of which are over the age of 65 and most vulnerable to the fast-spreading virus.

But Hobbs, Lee, Scholz and LaRose downplayed those concerns and specifically called on “otherwise healthy poll workers” to “carry out their patriotic duties on Tuesday.” Worried poll workers across the state are not planning to show up on Tuesday, leaving county election officials scrambling to find replacements.

The four state election officials said voting is different than music festivals, the NCAA tournament and Broadway shows and the hundreds of other events cancelled nationwide, where people are enclosed in spaces for long periods.

"Polling locations see people from a nearby community coming into and out of the building for a short duration,” they said. Polling places will have guidance on how to sanitize voting machine and best practices for hand washing, they added.

In Florida, some counties have moved polling polices planned from assisted living facilities. Turnout on Tuesday is expected to be affected by the coronavirus concerns, though to what degree is unknown. At last count, 1.2 million people have sent in mail ballots and 452,000 voted early.

“We would just tell voters that if they’re not feeling well, just just stay home,” said Brian Corley, the supervisor of elections in Pasco County. “This might be the only time I’ve ever discouraged voting.”

Times staff writer Allison Graves contributed to this report.

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