January 26, 2021

US election primaries: Game over for Bernie Sanders?

Tuesday may end up being the day Joe Biden put the Democratic nomination out of reach.

With dominating wins in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, he padded his previous 894 to 743 lead and moved closer to the magic 1,991 number of delegates to secure the nomination.

In a normal political world, this would be the lead story, as attention turns to a Biden matchup with Donald Trump in the autumn.

This is not, however, a normal political world. It’s not a normal world by almost any measure.

Voting in the shadow of a virus
Tuesday was supposed to be Super Tuesday, the sequel, with four big-state contests. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, Ohio – and its 136 delegates – has indefinitely delayed its in-person voting, even though many in the state have already cast early or absentee ballots.

In the other three states, Illinois, Florida and Arizona, the primaries were held as scheduled. The latter two have robust early voting systems, which means any drop in same-day balloting had less of an effect on total turnout.

In Arizona, for instance, early voting exceeded the entire turnout in the state’s 2016 Democratic primary – and the state was called for Biden just a few hours after polls closed there.

Illinois, however, relies heavily on election-day turnout – and reports from the state indicate that last-minute polling station closures, election-site volunteer no-shows, and a lack of election supplies and disinfectants caused considerable confusion among the state’s voters. Turnout was down from 2016 levels, as some were turned away without casting ballots, while others had to wait in long lines and crowded rooms, prompting a court order to keep the polls in Chicago open for an extra hour.

Once the polls did close, Biden was quickly projected by several US media outlets to be the winner. His apparently easy victory, however, will not put to bed concerns that what happened in Illinois on Tuesday was a harbinger of elections to come if political leaders in Washington, DC, and the states don’t start preparing the machinery of democracy for operation during a pandemic.

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