March 18 (UPI) -- In-person voting during Tuesday's primary elections in Florida, Illinois and Arizona saw a downturn amid concerns about COVID-19 as state and federal government officials encouraged people to remain home and avoid crowds.
About half a million fewer voters cast ballots in the primary election in Illinois on Tuesday than did in the 2016 primary while Florida and Arizona saw increases in participation that were largely driven by early and mail-in voting.
Overall voting levels in Florida increased about 2 percent from 2016 but in-person turnout dropped from 820,000 to 630,000. Arizona turnout increased 30 percent from 470,000 in 2016 to 540,000 in the 2020 primary, bolstered primarily by 480,000 Democrats who voted early.
Ohio, which was also originally scheduled to hold its primary on Tuesday, closed polls after a judge rejected Gov. Mike DeWine's request to postpone the election to June. Four other states also postponed their primary elections and Alabama delayed a Republican Senate runoff scheduled for March 31 in response to the virus.
While many polling places provided hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes as well as masks for poll workers, the outbreak caused complications during Tuesday's elections.
Poll workers in Chicago reported their polling places did not have sufficient cleaning supplies, hundreds of polling places were moved and shifted, and hundreds of volunteer poll workers in Florida told officials they could not show up for the elections.
The vote also came as Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign called for voters to decide on their own whether they were comfortable heading out to the polls in the outbreak and distributed safety guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We are making clear to voters that we believe going to the polls amid the coronavirus outbreak is a personal decision and we respect whichever choice they make," said Sanders' communications director, Mike Casca.
"Acess to vote by mail, early vote and no-excuse absentee ballots led to increased turnout in the midst of a national crisis and expanding this access will be an important step in protecting our democracy moving forward," Bedingfield said.