A legal fight has emerged in Arizona over a county official’s efforts to blunt the coronavirus’s impacts on the election, as a judge blocked the mailing of ballots to all eligible primary voters.

Louisiana also became the first state to postpone its presidential primary because of the coronavirus outbreak, and the pandemic continued to complicate the campaigns of Democratic contenders Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former vice president Joe Biden. Biden’s campaign said Friday that he has not been tested for the virus and has had no symptoms or concerning contacts.

Biden’s first “virtual town hall” Friday evening was marred by technical difficulties, signaling the challenges ahead as candidates try to avoid large gatherings. Sunday’s one-on-one Democratic debate will be held without a live audience.

The Trump campaign is also embracing reimagined efforts to get out the vote: It said Friday that the campaign and the Republican National Committee will be holding “virtual events with top surrogates” and training thousands of supporters online.

President Trump’s potential Democratic rivals will go before the voters Saturday in the Northern Mariana Islands and Tuesday in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — contests in which Biden hopes to add to his delegate lead and put the nomination beyond Sanders’s reach.

Arizona judge blocks county official from mailing out ballots as coronavirus threatens to upend the primary

Link copied

An Arizona judge on Friday blocked a county election official from mailing out ballots to all eligible voters as concerns deepen about whether the coronavirus outbreak will prevent vulnerable populations from participating in the presidential nominating contest.

Arizona is one of four states with a primary scheduled for Tuesday.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said the move to provide ballots to people not already on an early-voting list was designed to “both enfranchise the voters and protect public health.”

But the state’s attorney general, Republican Mark Brnovich, said the county official lacked authority to send ballots to voters who had not requested them by a now-passed deadline. In a filing, the attorney general said the move risked “creating a swarm of illegal ballots and immense voter confusion.”

Superior Court judge Connie Contes granted the preliminary injunction, and Fontes said Friday evening he would have to hold back the ballots as a result.

“The ballots were at the door of the warehouse,” he said in an interview. “My job is to help voters vote. Especially in a time of a global pandemic, it’s unfortunate that politics intervened.”

The episode unfolded as Louisiana became the first state to postpone its primary, which had originally been scheduled for April 4. It is now set for June 20. Elsewhere, election officials scrambled to process applications for absentee ballots and to ensure that polling places would be properly sanitized.

But Arizona and several other states set to hold primaries Tuesday said in a statement that they remain confident voters can “safely and securely cast their ballots.”

Biden has not been tested for coronavirus because he has no symptoms or worrying contacts, campaign says

12:53 a.m.
Link copied

Former vice president Joe Biden has not been tested for the coronavirus, according to his health advisers, because he has not shown any signs and has not been informed of being in contact with anyone who has tested positive.

“Vice President Biden has no fever, no cough, no shortness of breath or other symptoms consistent with coronavirus, and the campaign has not been informed of or become aware of any relevant contact with an individual who has tested positive,” his advisers wrote in a statement. “So in keeping with this guidance Biden has not been tested for COVID-19.”

“Doing so would be against the advice of public health officials and expend valuable resources that should be dedicated to those most at risk,” the advisers continued. “Biden and his campaign will continue to follow the best practices laid out by public health officials.”

The statement was signed by a half-dozen health professionals and former government officials Biden has on a committee advising him on the coronavirus.

The campaign provided the statement hours after being asked, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) earlier in the day said he had also not been tested for the virus.

President Trump, during an afternoon news conference, said he would be tested soon. Unlike Biden and Sanders, Trump has been in contact with several individuals who have tested positive.

Biden’s first virtual town hall marred by technical difficulties, underscoring challenges for campaigns

12:09 a.m.
Link copied

Biden’s first “virtual town hall” was marred by technical difficulties Friday evening, underscoring the difficulties candidates will face as the coronavirus pandemic upends campaign activities and even the election schedule.

Biden’s opening remarks were garbled, often with only snippets — “coronavirus,” “those who need it,” “economic response” — coming through as people tuned in via phone or online.

“I’ll listen to the experts and their advice,” Biden said in a moment of relative audio clarity as he described how he would confront the threat, promising to “build American leadership and rally the world, as we did in our administration.”

The first questioner said only, “Mr. Biden’s speech was garbled the entire time,” to which a moderator responded, “We appreciate you bearing with our technical difficulties.”

The next questioner appeared to have dropped from the forum.

Eventually, another person asked what Biden was going to do to appeal to Sanders supporters.

“Am I live? Can I respond?” Biden asked.

Amid some garbled audio, he said, “First of all, Bernie and I are friends.” He said the two of them would work together, whichever one of them ends up being the nominee. He also stressed that there were a range of issues on which they agree.

Biden and Sanders have had to cancel and modify primary-season activities as officials take increasingly drastic measures against the coronavirus. Their one-on-one debate Sunday will be held without a live audience.

Biden and Sanders have both laid out plans to combat the virus, seeking to draw a contrast with Trump’s address to the nation Wednesday night. Sanders said the unfolding crisis was “on the scale of a major war,” while Biden earlier urged “radical changes in our personal behaviors.”

Friday’s Biden event got underway at 7:20 p.m. Eastern time after 20 minutes of throat-clearing, brief snippets of test video and cutaways to an “Illinois for Biden” graphic. An event notification suggested the town hall would last two hours, but it ended at about 7:45 p.m.

Representatives for Biden did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the event Friday night. But in an email to reporters who covered the town hall, the campaign apologized for the technical glitches and said a full recording would be posted online as soon as possible.

The campaign distributed Biden’s prepared remarks for the town hall, which were similar to the ones he delivered on Thursday in response to the coronavirus outbreak. The candidate also praised the legislation unveiled Friday by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

“All Americans should be grateful for the Speaker’s leadership and for [Senate] Minority Leader [Charles E.] Schumer’s leadership at this critical moment,” he said. “These are important first steps, but we have much more to do — and a long road ahead.”

Trump campaign touts readiness to go virtual amid virus fears

9:29 p.m.
Link copied

The Trump campaign touted its “unprecedented virtual and digital campaign tools” Friday, saying it and the Republican National Committee would be holding “virtual events with top surrogates” and training thousands of supporters online as fears of the coronavirus upend normal election activities.

Activities for next week’s National Day of Action mobilizing callers and National Week of Training for new volunteers will all play out “in a virtual setting,” Trump’s reelection campaign said in a statement, boasting that it is better positioned to shift activities online than other campaigns.

“We have a huge advantage over Democrats and are well on our way toward our goal of two million trained volunteers, which means we already have a massive army we can mobilize to help re-elect the President,” said campaign manager Brad Parscale in a statement.

Worries that large gatherings will speed the coronavirus pandemic’s spread in the United States have forced presidential candidates to rethink the wisdom of campaign staples such as rallies and town hall meetings. Former vice president Joe Biden is set to hold a virtual town hall Friday evening, and his upcoming debate with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders will be held without an audience.

Earlier this week, the White House said Trump was canceling a three-day trip to Nevada and Colorado, including a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas, out of “an abundance of caution” over the coronavirus outbreak. Not long after, Trump’s campaign called off a “Catholics for Trump” kickoff rally scheduled in Milwaukee next week.

The Trump campaign said in its statement Friday that it will also be ramping up online voter registration efforts aimed at rally attendees “identified as not currently registered to vote.”

Wyoming Democrats suspend in-person voting for caucuses as election officials face coronavirus fears

7:44 p.m.
Link copied

The Wyoming Democratic Party says it is suspending the in-person part of its April 4 presidential caucuses as election officials around the country confront the risk of the novel coronavirus.

The party said on Facebook that it is also suspending all county conventions.

“Our priority is ensuring that people are healthy and safe,” party chair Joe Barbuto said in a statement. “Holding public events right now would put that in jeopardy, so this is the responsible course of action.”

Voters are being encouraged to vote by mail, the party said, adding that, as of now, ballot drop-off locations will be open on March 28 and April 4. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by March 20.

Louisiana leaders on Friday announced they are delaying the state’s primary until the summer, while election officials in the four states slated to hold primaries Tuesday — Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — said in a joint statement that they remain confident voters can “safely and securely cast their ballots in this election.” They encouraged “otherwise healthy” poll workers to carry out their duties.

But authorities in Maricopa County — Arizona’s most populous and home to the city of Phoenix — on Friday announced a new measure to help people vote amid coronavirus fears. County Recorder Adrian Fontes said in a statement that he has taken the “unprecedented step” of mailing ballots to “all voters that typically vote on Election Day” and who are also eligible to participate in the Tuesday Democratic primary.

“We are in unchartered territory with the COVID-19,” Fontes wrote, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus, adding, “Anything we can do to minimize human interaction in the polling place is what we must do.”

Networks cancel in-person exit polls for March 17 primaries, citing coronavirus threat

7:28 p.m.
Link copied

A consortium of TV networks announced Friday it will not conduct any in-person exit poll of voters in Tuesday’s primaries in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, and is considering other options to report views of voters in those states.

The National Election Pool (NEP), made up of ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC, cited concern over the coronavirus outbreak as the reason for canceling in-person exit polling, which it has conducted in partnership with Edison Media Research among voters in 18 primary and caucus states this year, including several on Tuesday.

In a statement, the NEP said it is exploring “other options for reporting the views of voters in states holding primaries.” One possibility is conducting a telephone poll of likely voters and early voters, which has been used to conduct surveys of voters in Colorado and Washington state who cast their ballots by mail.

Exit polls are widely cited to explain the outcome of elections by reporting how different demographic and political groups voted, as well as how voters viewed the candidates.

Exit polls are also used to make projections of election results in contests where they find one candidate has a large advantage. For example, in Michigan’s primary, exit polling showed Sanders won 76 percent of voters under age 30 while Biden won 62 percent of voters ages 45-64 and 71 percent of voters 65 and older.

The Washington Post is a subscriber to vote-count and exit-polling data from Edison Media Research.

Emily Guskin contributed to this post.

On postponing elections, Sanders says people shouldn’t ‘become infected because they are voting’

7:23 p.m.
Link copied

Sanders said Friday that postponing elections is a difficult call but that no one who wants to vote should be put at risk or be deterred out of fear or inability because of other disruptions caused by the coronavirus.

“There is obviously a growing concern about bringing people together and spreading the virus,” Sanders said during a news briefing in Burlington, Vt. “This is an issue where the doctors and public health officials are going to have to be weighing the risks.”

“Rescheduling elections is not something we do lightly or should do lightly. On the other hand, at this particular moment, it is absolutely appropriate that public officials listen to public health officials … and make sure that everybody who wants to vote has the right to vote and that might not be the case today,” Sanders said when asked specifically about how school closings might make it more challenging for parents to vote.

He said his campaign has been in contact with the Democratic National Committee about the issue of rescheduling elections but did not provide more information about those talks.

Asked about how this has affected his campaign, Sanders acknowledged that it has been “radically changed” by his inability to do rallies and town hall meetings, and that it will have to rely now more than ever on digital operations.

“This coronavirus has obviously impacted our ability to communicate with people in the traditional way we do and that’s hurting us,” he said.

Sanders says he has not been tested for the coronavirus and does not believe he has interacted with anybody who has it.

Sanders says coronavirus is argument for Medicare-for-all

6:50 p.m.
Link copied

Sanders believes that the vulnerabilities in the U.S. health-care system exposed by the coronavirus will lead to more people embracing his signature plan of Medicare-for-all.

Speaking for the second time in two days about the spreading pandemic, Sanders said having a swath of the population underinsured or uninsured during this crisis is a threat not only to themselves but also to the people around them.

“What this crisis is beginning to teach us that we’re only as safe as the least insured person among us,” Sanders said.

“How can it be that we have millions of people dealing with the virus but cannot go to the doctor because they cannot afford it?” Sanders said. “If this isn’t a red flag for the current wasteful and dysfunctional health-care system, I don’t know what is.”

Sanders, who is off the campaign trail due to the coronavirus threat, was asked if he felt frustrated that Biden had attacked Medicare-for-all because of its cost, but has now said the country must spend whatever it takes to combat the virus.

Sanders chuckled. “What I would say is that right now, the absurdity and dysfunctionality of the current health-care system is becoming apparent to everybody. and maybe this is an issue Joe Biden and I will discuss on Sunday night,” he said.

Biden ‘virtual town hall’ to take place on Facebook Live

6:33 p.m.
Link copied

Biden’s campaign is attempting something new Friday afternoon: a “virtual town hall” to reach voters ahead of four crucial primaries Tuesday.

The campaign is using Facebook Live to conduct the town hall, according to a campaign aide, and there will be a question-and-answer component with the former vice president answering questions submitted from the states they are targeting.

It is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. Eastern time.

Biden has been at his home in Wilmington, Del., and had been slated to campaign in Chicago on Friday night. He canceled the rally earlier in the week after the coronavirus outbreak began reorienting the campaign.

The campaign will hold another virtual town hall Monday, targeting Florida after having to cancel a rally that had been scheduled that day in Miami. The format could evolve over time, as the campaign expects to continue doing virtual events in the coming weeks.

Election officials in Tuesday’s four primary states say voters can ‘safely’ cast ballots

6:04 p.m.
Link copied

Election officials in the four states slated to hold primaries on Tuesday — Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio — said in a joint statement Friday that they are confident that voters can “safely and securely cast their ballots in this election” and encouraged “otherwise healthy” poll workers to carry out their duties.

“As each of our four states prepare for voters to head to the polls on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, we are working closely with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe,” the statement said. “Unlike concerts, sporting events or other mass gatherings where large groups of people travel long distances to congregate in a confined space for an extended period of time, polling locations see people from a nearby community coming into and out of the building for a short duration.”

The statement was issued by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Illinois Elections Board Chairman Charles Scholz and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

The four officials said guidance is also being posted at poll locations on how to best sanitize voting machines, as well as on best practices for hand-washing.

“Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past, and based on the best information we have from public health officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and securely cast their ballots in this election, and that otherwise healthy poll workers can and should carry out their patriotic duties on Tuesday,” the officials said.

Sanders to deliver remarks on lessons of coronavirus outbreak

5:19 p.m.
Link copied

Sanders announced Friday that he would deliver an address on “the lessons the nation can learn from the coronavirus outbreak.”

He is scheduled to make his remarks at 2 p.m. Eastern time at a hotel in his hometown of Burlington, Vt.

Both Sanders and Biden delivered speeches on Thursday about the pandemic and the Trump administration’s response to it.

Biden campaign advises at-risk populations, those exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus to vote absentee or by mail

5:06 p.m.
Link copied

The Biden campaign of Friday advised voters in upcoming primaries to explore using absentee ballots or mail options if they are members of an at-risk population, exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus or have been diagnosed with it.

“If voters are feeling healthy, not exhibiting symptoms, and don’t believe they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, please vote on Tuesday,” Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s communications director said in a statement that also included the advice to participate from home to those not feeling well.

The statement was issued shortly after Louisiana announced that it would delay its April 4 primaries until June 20.

Several states are scheduled to vote before then, including four on Tuesday: Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio.

“Voting is at the very heart of who we are as a democracy,” Bedingfield said. “As election officials working with public health officials are demonstrating throughout the country, our elections can be conducted safely in consultation with public health officials.”

Louisiana delays presidential primaries until summer, the first state to postpone voting because of the coronavirus

4:55 p.m.
Link copied
Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said state officials made the decision to delay their primary amid concern for poll worker's health on March 13. (Louisiana Secretary of State)

Louisiana became the first state Friday to postpone its presidential primaries amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The state, which was supposed to have its primaries April 4, will instead hold them June 20, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said at a news conference.

State officials made the decision amid concern about older poll workers being exposed to the novel coronavirus.

“Louisiana is no stranger to natural disasters and well-adapted at navigating any situation Mother Nature throws our way,” Ardoin, a Republican, said at the news conference. “While hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are at the forefront of all Louisianans’ minds, the threat we face from the covid-19 is an unprecedented threat and unlike any we have faced.”

Ardoin said he certified a state of emergency Friday and requested that Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) issue an executive order postponing the Democratic and Republican contests.

While states can set their own primary days, the November general election is set by federal statute as the Tuesday following the first Monday in November.

Ardoin said Louisiana’s decision was made with several factors in mind, including the age of Louisiana’s poll workers — more than half are 65 or older, he said.

“Safe and secure elections also mean safety for the people of Louisiana,” he said.

Ardoin said the emergency provision had been used before, delaying the elections in 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and in 2008 after Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

“It’s a very serious issue,” said Tyler Brey, press secretary for the secretary of state’s office. “We’re trying to prevent the spread of [the virus] and take precautions.”

The April 4 presidential primaries will now take place June 20. The May 9 municipal general election will now take place July 25.

Ardoin said the delay would help his office “procure necessary supplies” to protect polling locations, and other steps related to the covid-19 threat.

Joe Kennedy suspends Senate campaign in Massachusetts for a week

3:38 p.m.
Link copied

In a sign of how the coronavirus outbreak is also affecting down-ballot races, the Senate campaign of Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) announced Friday that it would suspend campaign activities for one week.

“We don’t believe it is appropriate or wise to continue political activities given the reality that Massachusetts families and communities are facing,” Kennedy campaign manager Nick Clemons said in a statement. “Our top priority is ensuring our staff, supporters, community, and the general public are safe.”

Kennedy has been mounting a spirited primary challenge to incumbent Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), with polls showing a tight race.

Kennedy’s campaign said it would reassess its suspension by the end of next week.

In the meantime, it said all staff members would work remotely and voter contact would be suspended, except for digital communication regarding coronavirus.

“Congressman Kennedy will focus his time on his official capacity — ensuring our Commonwealth and country have the resources they need to respond to this threat,” Clemons said in his statement. “He will be present as much as possible across his district and Massachusetts, working in partnership with local leaders.”

Markey later responded in a statement indicating he would not suspend his campaign.

“My campaign is committed to building, supporting, and strengthening connections to help people continue to feel a sense of community during this crisis,” he said. “We are providing maximum accommodation for staff, volunteers, and supporters to take care of themselves, their families, and their loved ones as we have since the coronavirus became apparent. We face a new reality, and the campaign will continue to operate because an engaged democracy is important.”