Politics

Polls start closing as voters navigate protests, coronavirus

Voters navigated curfews and health concerns in a slate of primary contests on Tuesday that tested the nation’s ability to host elections amid dueling crises and moved Joe Biden closer to formally clinching the Democratic presidential nomination.

In all, nine states and the District of Columbia held elections, including four that delayed their April contests because of the coronavirus outbreak. With no real competition, Biden and President Trump easily won their respective primary elections in Indiana, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Mexico, and the night’s biggest prize: Pennsylvania. Biden also won South Dakota.

In northwest Iowa, meanwhile, Republicans were deciding Tuesday whether they've had enough of conservative lightning rod Steve King, after tolerating the congressman’s incendiary comments about immigrants and white supremacy for nearly two decades.

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The nine-term Republican, shunned by his party leadership in Washington and many of his longtime supporters at home, was in the fight for his career against four challengers. It wasn’t immediately clear whether King had survived the primary challenge.

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Voters waited in long lines that brushed up against curfews in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, two cities rocked by protests following the police killing of George Floyd. Officials in both places said voters wouldn’t be arrested for breaking curfew, but thousands of protesters defied the mayors’ orders at the same time, setting up a potential clash with law enforcement agencies and National Guard troops patrolling the streets during a fifth night of social unrest.

Pennsylvania, which offered the day’s biggest trove of delegates, also represented a significant test case for Republicans and Democrats working to strengthen their operations in a premier general election battleground.

Voters were forced to brave long lines in “militarized zones” because officials consolidated the vast majority of polling places in Philadelphia to minimize health risks, according to Erin Kramer, executive director of One Pennsylvania. She noted that some polling places in Black communities are in police stations.

“Having to stand in line while police officers are entering and exiting the building on police business is not exactly how people want to spend their election day,” Kramer said.

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Biden was on the primary ballot in almost every state in his bid to unify Democrats behind his campaign against Trump. The former vice president is already the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, given that all his rivals have dropped out of the race, but he needs to win 89 percent of all delegates at stake on Tuesday to formally clinch the nomination.

If he doesn’t secure the needed delegates Tuesday, he has other opportunities to do so this month.

Party unity will likely be an afterthought this week, however, as more immediate health and safety concerns dominate the national conversation. The coronavirus death toll has surged past 100,000 nationwide, and thousands of new cases are reported each day.

Political groups have had to adjust as some states move to a system that relies largely on voting by mail. They include Montana, where all 56 counties decided to vote entirely by mail. Voting rights watchdogs in multiple states have expressed concerns about access to mail ballots and other confusion.

Those voting Tuesday included the District of Columbia, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Dakota. Two other states holding primary elections, Idaho and Iowa, chose presidential nominee early in the year.

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“We are in unique times, and voting is a unique challenge for people,” said Josh Schwerin, chief strategist for the pro-Democrat super PAC Priorities USA.