Voters in the United States are being asked to navigate curfews, health concerns and a sharp increase in mail balloting on Tuesday as elections take place in states from Maryland to Montana.
Four states were originally scheduled to vote in April but delayed their contests because of the coronavirus outbreak. Pennsylvania offers the day’s largest trove of delegates and represents a high-profile test case for Republicans and Democrats working to strengthen their operations in one of the most important general election battleground states.
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“We think we’re prepared,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills said. “Thank goodness we have the opportunity of working this out in the primary because we don’t know where we’ll be with the pandemic in November.”
Joe Biden needs to win 89 percent of all delegates at stake on Tuesday to formally clinch the nomination, but his role as his party’s clear presidential nominee is not in danger should he fall short. With a dominant showing on Super Tuesday in early March, the former vice president pushed out all his major opponents. He will almost certainly secure the needed delegates later in the month if necessary.
Still, Tuesday offers an historic opportunity for the 77-year-old Democrat, who is waging his third presidential campaign and who hopes to amass as many delegates as possible to show strength before going up against President Donald Trump on November 3.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is not actively campaigning, having suspended his operation and endorsed Biden, but his name will appear on the ballots. On the eve of Tuesday’s primaries, senior adviser Jeff Weaver encouraged progressives to vote for Sanders anyway.
“People who support Bernie Sanders and his agenda, who want to maximize the influence of progressives at the convention, should cast their vote for Bernie Sanders,” Weaver said, reminding voters that Sanders is seeking leverage to shape the party’s platform and rules.
The comments serve as a reminder that Biden may have no legitimate Democratic rivals remaining but must still win over sceptical activists from his party’s far-left flank, who worry he’s too close to the political establishment.
Party unity will likely be an afterthought this week, however, as more immediate health and safety concerns dominate the national conversation.
“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. He said his organization and others will be watching closely on Tuesday “to see how well it works, where issues are and where obstacles have been put in place”.
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, confusion about deadlines and a shortage of poll workers that could lead to long lines.
States conducting elections on Tuesday include Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Dakota. Polls are also open in the District of Columbia, and in Iowa, which chose its presidential nominee early in the year and the voting is for state offices.