TUCSON, Ariz. (CN) – Under the pall of coronavirus and a call for social distancing across the nation, Arizona Democrats headed to the polls Tuesday to decide who get the state’s delegates to the national convention in July.
Polls show former Vice President Joe Biden with a widening lead over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who along with U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii are the only candidates left in the race for the state’s 67 delegates.
Coronavirus prompted a contraction in the number of polling places and disinfection training for poll workers in Maricopa County, home to 4.4 million of the state’s 7.1 million residents. The county eliminated polls in senior centers or other senior living spaces, then consolidated 229 precinct and open polling locations to 150 and opened them to any voter, said county Elections Department spokeswoman Erika Flores.
“We’ve also been telling voters to wash their hands before they go to the voting stations and after they leave,” Flores said.
By Monday, about half of Maricopa County’s 571,104 requested ballots had been returned, she said.
In Tucson, a coronavirus-wary Sanders campaign left town four days ago when paid staff turned over the office keys to local group Tucson for Bernie, said volunteer Christina Beach, 51, who came from Oakland, California, this week to keep the campaign alive.
“I can’t blame them,” Beach said. “It wasn’t about money. They didn’t want to endanger people.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll last week gave Biden a 59% to 41% advantage over Sanders among Democratic voters nationally and 55% to 45% when the sample included independents — who account for about one-third of Arizona voters. Gabbard registered 3% support in the poll taken in the days after Super Tuesday.
About half of the Sanders supporters in that survey (51%) said they would vote for Biden in the general election if he is the party’s nominee, while 12% would vote for a third party, 8% for Trump and 28% were unsure or would not vote.
Sanders voters interviewed in Tucson on Tuesday mirrored that sentiment.
Pam Smith, 65, and a retired teacher, voted for Sanders because she feels Democrats have become too centrist in recent decades and she wants a more progressive government. Smith will back Biden, however, if he is nominated, she said.
“I don’t want to vote for him, but I will,” she said.
Laura Milkens, a Tucson performance artist and art instructor at a local community college, agreed. She would love to have a more left-leaning government but will accept a more centrist candidate if she must in the general election in November.
“I’m going to vote. I always vote, and I am not going to vote for Donald Trump,” said Milkens, 49.
Barbara Magee, 68, won’t have to hold her nose to vote for Biden – she’s backed him all along, she said, largely because of his friendship with former President Barack Obama and his experience on the world stage.
Sanders backers who threaten to skip out on the general election if their candidate doesn’t win are a “real concern” to her. They need to get onboard no matter who the candidate is, Magee said.
“If they want a chance at real leadership in this country, then I hope they would realize that and not taker their marbles and go home,” she said.
An Arizona poll published last week by the Phoenix research firm OH Predictive Insights shows Biden with a virtual lock among likely Democratic voters. In the telephone poll conducted March 3-4, 45% said they support Biden while just 17% back Sanders, a crushing lead that easily clears the poll’s 4.9% margin of error.
Biden held a similar lead among men, women, rural, white and Hispanic voters. Sanders’ only lead over Biden in the survey — a statistical tie — was among voters younger than 54, where the Vermont senator garnered 30% to Biden’s 29%.
Polls are open until 7 p.m. across the state, where the eventual nominee will vie against Trump for 11 Electoral College votes.