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March 17 Democratic primaries live updates: Biden sweeps Sanders as coronavirus casts shadow over vote

Tuesday's primaries were the first since Trump declared a national emergency over the coronavirus outbreak.

Joe Biden defeated Bernie Sanders in Florida, Illinois and Arizona, NBC News projected Tuesday, opening up a nearly insurmountable delegate lead.

In Ohio, polls were ordered closed as a public health measure after a judge declined the governor's request to postpone the election. But contests in the other three states proceeded as scheduled Tuesday despite widespread fears over the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic.

The outbreak, which has sickened more than 5,000 people in the U.S., is thrusting the Democratic primary into uncertainty, with some states postponing their elections and the candidates forgoing rallies for virtual events.

Highlights from the March 17 Democratic primaries:

Early voter turnout around Chicago 'remarkably low,' elections official says

Some measures of Chicago-era voting are showing very low turnout compared to previous elections.

Just over 10,000 Chicago voters had cast a ballot in the first hour of voting, said James Allen, a spokesperson for the city board of elections in a call with reporters on Tuesday.

“We had extremely low turnout,” Allen said, adding, “We also suspect there is a lot concern about going to any public place with more than 10 people."

In nearby DuPage County, fewer than 45,000 voters had cast their ballots as of noon Tuesday, the county said, on pace for a sharp decline from its turnout last election. The county already had nearly 49,000 recorded ballots cast in early voting or by mail; in the 2016 primary, it recorded almost 290,000 total votes.

Tuesday's results were "remarkably low,” said Matt Dietrich, spokesperson for Illinois' board of elections. He expects similar results statewide. “When we get the official numbers, I seriously doubt that we’re going to have anything close to the 33 percent average that we’ve had since 2000 in presidential primaries,” he told NBC News.

Chicago's board of elections had called for Illinois to delay of its primary amid the coronavirus outbreak, Allen said. But Dietrich said state law only allows such a delay by a lawsuit, something the state board was not inclined to pursue.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's press secretary said Tuesday that the governor did not want to "risk confusion and disenfranchisement in the courts." "No one is saying this is a perfect solution," his press secretary, Jordan Abudayyeh, said. "We have no perfect solutions at the moment. We only have least-bad solutions."

A note about NBC News polling for Tuesday's primaries

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, the National Election Pool did not conduct in-person exit polls for Tuesday's primaries.

Instead, the National Election Pool, which includes NBC News, conducted a primary poll — a survey of voters conducted by telephone before Tuesday's vote. The survey asked who respondents would vote for and included questions to help explain voter attitudes and demographics, as an exit poll would. 

Check back throughout the night for results from the NBC News Primary Poll. 

Biden encourages mail-in or curbside voting

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5 things to watch as Arizona, Florida and Illinois vote during coronavirus mayhem

Democrats in three states will hold primaries Tuesday in the first big day of voting since the coronavirus upended vast swaths of American life and was declared a national emergency.

It is uncharted territory for Arizona, Florida and Illinois, which collectively award 441 delegates to the Democratic convention, more than one-fifth of what’s needed to clinch the nomination. Joe Biden leads Bernie Sanders by about 150 delegates, according to the latest NBC News count.

Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday.

Tuesday's pandemic primaries: Everything you need to know

Three states are holding Democratic primaries Tuesday -— the first since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic and a national emergency, paralyzing much of the country with shutdowns.

There were initially four states slated to vote, but Ohio's primary was called off Monday night after Gov. Mike DeWine filed suit to block it, citing concerns that poll workers could be exposed to the virus.

The St. Patrick's Day primaries are also the first since Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders faced off in a stripped down, one-on-one debate in Washington, D.C., on Sunday night.

Sanders faces an uphill battle in Tuesday's states — Hillary Clinton won all three while running against him in 2016, and won Ohio as well. Polling shows a possible Biden sweep.

Here's a look at what you need to know.

Democrats vote in Florida and more: What polls show for Biden, Sanders

Democrats are scheduled to vote in primaries for their presidential nominee in three states Tuesday, despite the coronavirus crisis that has locked much of the country in a standstill.

The pandemic's influence is already being felt in the electoral process — Ohio was supposed to be among the states where voting was happening Tuesday, but the primary was called off Monday night because of the health emergency. (Polling shows Joe Biden was poised for a big win in Ohio. An NBC News/Marist poll released Monday found likely Democratic primary voters supporting the former vice president over Bernie Sanders by a wide margin, 58 percent to 35 percent.)

Here's what the latest polling shows in the three states that are still going to the polls — and where 441 delegates are up for grabs.

Strengths and weaknesses of 5 possible Biden running mates

Joe Biden has vowed to choose a woman as his running mate if he's the Democratic presidential nominee. Here's a look at a shortlist of frequently mentioned potential candidates — each of whom would bring something different to the ticket.

It just depends on what the former vice president is looking for — age, ideology, race, experience and geography could all matter.

Here's who he might choose and why.

While Maryland delays primary, special election to replace Cummings will stay mail-in only

WASHINGTON — As Maryland delays most primary elections from late April to early June in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the state will not push back the special election aimed at replacing the late Rep. Elijah Cummings.

Instead, that election will go on as scheduled, but all voters will cast their ballot by mail. 

Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement Tuesday as part of the larger decision to shift the state's primary elections from April 28 to June 2. He directed the state elections board to come up with a plan to conduct a June primary "in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process." 

Read more here.

Primary states voting Tuesday take steps to limit coronavirus risks

The blue painter’s tape issued to poll workers in Cook County, Illinois, has a particularly important use this year: marking off 6-foot increments to make sure people maintain a safe distance from one another.

“It is our job to ensure the safety of those around us while we carry out our civic duty today,” tweeted County Clerk Karen Yarbrough.

Arizona, Florida and Illinois are proceeding with Tuesday’s primaries, but officials are stressing alternatives, such as voting by mail, and telling voters to be on the lookout for changes due to coronavirus precautions.

Polling places are also taking their own precautions.

Read the full story here.

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Sanders urges voters to stay safe

FIRST READ: The 2020 Democratic race could be frozen in place after Tuesday's primaries

It’s likely — if not certain — that tonight’s Democratic presidential primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois will be the last ones for the next two months.

And it’s unclear what, exactly, is going to happen today in Ohio, where the state’s governor said he wouldn’t open the state’s polling places, defying a judge who declined to postpone the state’s primary.

It all freezes into place a Democratic nominating contest — with uncertainty about when it all begins again.

And that raises questions about the state of Bernie Sanders’ campaign (given that Joe Biden’s lead is going to grow after tonight’s contests), about the Democratic convention in July (will the health landscape improve by then?), and about whether states and the federal government can institute a vote-by-mail system for November.

Get the rest of First Read.

Maryland postpones primary election slated for April to June

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that he's postponing his state's primary that was scheduled for April 28 to June 2. 

"I am issuing a proclamation to postpone the April 28 primary to June 2, just as a number of other states have done and as other governors are expected to do later today or in the days ahead," he said at a press conference.

"I am directing the state board of elections to develop a comprehensive plan by April 3 to conduct the primary election in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process in our state," he said. 

Pandemic politics: Coronavirus forces candidates to shift to 'virtual' campaign

With the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on stock marketssports leagues and everyday life, it comes as no surprise that the presidential race isn't being spared.

Enter: the virtual campaign.

Say goodbye to big rallies with long lines, smaller meet-and-greets, volunteers knocking on your door. All you'll need now to "attend" your favorite candidate's event is an internet-connected device — please do so in your pajamas if you like.

Faced with the very real and rapidly growing fear about the spread of the coronavirus, the remaining candidates — Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders — are doing everything they can to keep their supporters excited without doing so in the large venues that public health experts say is where the virus can be easily spread.

Read more here.

Ohio primary called off at last minute due to health emergency

Ohio's Tuesday primary was called off at the last minute on Monday night due to a health emergency posed by the coronavirus.

The election was thrust into chaos on Monday after Gov. Mike DeWine said the state would not open polls because of the coronavirus outbreak. His comments come after a judge declined to postpone the contest until June.

"During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus," DeWine said in a statement posted to Twitter.

DeWine said that state Health Department Director Amy Acton would "order the polls closed as a health emergency." Acton did just that late Monday night.

Read the full story here.

Latino voters to show electoral clout in Florida, Arizona Democratic primaries

MIAMI — In the months leading to the presidential primaries Tuesday in Florida and Arizona, the names Fidel Castro and Joe Arpaio have become part of the mix for Latino voters as they choose between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

But the escalating coronavirus pandemic has made the issues surrounding the late Cuban communist leader and the ex-sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, secondary to whether to venture to the polls at all.

Florida and Arizona, as well as Illinois are going forward with their primaries despite the national emergency over the outbreak; Ohio's is postponed.

Latinos make up 20.5 percent of eligible voters in Florida and 23.6 percent in Arizona, according to the Pew Research Center.

Read more here.