WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden is projected to defeat Bernie Sanders in Ohio, according to an NBC News projection, after the primary was pushed back because of the coronavirus and carried out almost entirely by mail.
The outcome of the marquee contest was a foregone conclusion since Sanders has already dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden. But Sanders was still hoping to accrue as many delegates as possible to influence the Democratic National Convention, a task made more difficult by New York State’s decision Monday to entirely scrap their Democratic presidential primary.
Ohio abruptly canceled its March 17 Democratic presidential primary hours before voters were to head to the polls, rescheduling it to April 28 as the state's Republican governor and secretary of state led an effort to make Ohio the first state to hold an election during the pandemic after rapidly converting almost entirely to vote-by-mail.
Despite attacks on vote by mail from President Donald Trump and other national Republicans, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, have promoted its use and decided to leave in-person voting options available for only select groups who might have difficulty mailing in ballots, such as the homeless and disabled.
Federal agencies that help states with elections, like the Election Assistance Commission and Department of Homeland Security, have been steadily advising states on how to deal with a surge of voters who want to mail their ballot.
"The coronavirus pandemic certainly has changed our lives, and that includes the way we must now cast our vote in the 2020 primary election here in Ohio," DeWine said in a public service announcement encouraging Ohioans to vote by mail.
Wisconsin was widely panned for moving ahead with an in-person election earlier this month that may have led some voters and election workers to contract the virus.
DeWine initially used his executive authority to close the polls, citing the public health risk to poll workers, who tend to be older retirees, but the Ohio General Assembly unanimously approved a law in late March to send a postcard to every Ohioan with instructions on how to apply for an absentee ballot in Tuesday’s election.
As of Monday, 1,975,806 Ohioans had requested a vote-by-mail ballot and 1,458,936 voters had already returned them, according to the secretary of state’s office.The deadline to request a ballot was Sunday, but returned ballots will be counted as long as they were postmarked by Monday and arrive within 10 days of Election Day, which would be May 8.
Initial results were released Tuesday night, but the vote will not be finalized until after May 8 to allow time to count all ballots.
The election has not been without problems.
The only in-person voting locations available will be at county election offices, which voting rights advocates warn will mean people who did not receive their absentee ballot in time will have to choose between risking their health in long lines at the limited locations or sacrificing their right to vote.
State officials have also raised concerns about the U.S. Postal Service, which has faced financial strains during the crisis that could jeopardize vote-by-mail efforts nationwide.
LaRose asked the state's congressional delegation to pressure USPS brass in Washington to send more resources to Ohio to help with the surge in absentee ballots and said he’s now satisfied the Post Office is meeting the challenge.
"I appreciate the extraordinary efforts that the USPS is taking in Ohio, where we are the first state to convert a traditional in-person election to an all vote-by-mail election in response to the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic," LaRose said in a statement.