Florida primary begins amid fear, controversy

Miami, Mar 17 (efe-epa).- Polling places opened on Tuesday morning in Florida for the state’s primary election amid fear over the coronavirus and controversy regarding the fact that Gov. Ron DeSantis did not respond positively to requests to postpone the vote.

The polls will remain open from 7 am to 7 pm statewide.

Several civic organizations on Monday evening filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, who is the official responsible for election issues, for not having extended the deadline for voting by mail.

The plaintiffs say that large-scale voter absenteeism will result because of growing fears about the spread of the coronavirus, which is easily transmissable between humans and to which people have no immunity.

The latest official figures show that about 160 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, have been diagnosed in Florida, and five people have died. About 2,000 people have been tested for the virus, more than 900 of whom tested negative although the others are still awaiting their test results.

The key element in the primaries being held in three states on Tuesday is the face-off between former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, both of whom are vying for the Democratic presidential nomination although, according to all voter surveys, Biden is leading in Florida, as is the case in both Arizona and Illinois.

Voters in Ohio were also originally scheduled to head to the polls for the state primary on Tuesday but Gov. Mike DeWine ordered the precincts closed after a judge denied the request to postpone the vote.

The states of Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana have postponed their primaries due to the coronavirus, but DeSantis refused to follow suit arguing that during the Civil War people still went to the polls.

In Florida, regulations are in force prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people in one spot, but this ban on gatherings will not apply for election activities.

The lawsuit filed by Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority, Organize Florida, Advancement Project National Office, Demos and LatinoJustice PRLDEF alleges that the state did not extend the deadline for voting by mail, did not adjust the dates for early voting and did not broaden the options for voting by mail, thus denying voters critical options for casting their ballots “in violation of the 14th Amendment” to the US Constitution.

The state’s refusal to take “reasonable” emergency election measures will prevent many Floridians from participating in the primaries, the plaintiffs claim.

Dream Defenders co-director Rachel Gilmer said in a statement that the deadline for voting by mail should be extended to March 27 if the risk of “massive” voter suppression in the primary is to be avoided.

“Florida’s presidential primary election is (Tuesday) and unless immediate action is taken by the state, millions of voters could be disenfranchised,” she said.

Florida authorities have changed the polling places in areas of high concentrations of coronavirus contagion and have taken protective measures with the voting machines, but they have insisted that the primaries be held as scheduled.

New Florida Majority executive director Andrea Mercado said that although the closures and transfers of polling places were undertaken to protect public health, the measure will create confusion, lengthen lines at the existing precincts and force people to travel farther to be able to vote.

Expanding access to voting by mail is a “common sense” measure, she said.

The plaintiffs on the lawsuit also mentioned the quarantine requirements that Floridians testing positive for Covid-19 and a reduction in the number of available poll workers on election day as further barriers to voting.


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