Voters in 14 states will cast ballots on Super Tuesday, the most pivotal day of the Democratic presidential nominating process so far and a test for election administrators who are grappling with hacking threats, warnings about foreign interference and even worries about coronavirus ahead of November’s general election.
From Maine to California, primaries could further narrow the Democratic field, which now has five candidates. Former vice president Joe Biden is hoping to thwart the momentum of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) by building on his victory last weekend in South Carolina.
Fourteen states will hold Democratic presidential primaries Tuesday: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. All but Virginia will also hold Republican presidential primaries. In addition, American Samoa, which will send 11 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July, will hold a caucus. Finally, Democrats Abroad, which represents Americans living in foreign countries and will send 13 delegates to the convention, begins a week-long voting period Tuesday.
No. California, Maine, North Carolina and Utah are new to the Super Tuesday lineup this cycle, increasing their visibility in the Democratic nominating process. California’s 415 delegates give it particular power to shape the outcome. Voters in Georgia and Alaska voted on Super Tuesday in 2016 but won’t this year.
In addition, Colorado, Minnesota and Utah are transitioning to a primary system after using Democratic presidential caucuses for years or decades. The presidential primaries in Colorado and Utah will take place almost entirely by mail, another first for those states.
Voting eligibility varies widely from state to state. Most states, for instance, allow only those 18 and older to vote, but some — including Colorado, Maine, North Carolina and Virginia — allow 17-year-olds who will turn 18 by the November election to participate in primaries.
Similarly, the rules around criminal records vary widely. The regulations in Vermont and Maine are among the most liberal in the country, allowing felons, including those still serving their prison sentences, to cast ballots. California allows people on probation to vote. Minnesota, Oklahoma and Texas allow felons to vote after completing the terms of their sentence. In Virginia, only felons whose rights have been restored by the governor may vote.
A number of states hold “open” primaries, meaning voters can choose which party’s primary to participate in. On Tuesday, open or partially open primaries will take place in nearly every state.
Like most laws related to U.S. elections, rules governing photo identification range widely. Just two Super Tuesday states — Tennessee and Virginia — enforce strict ID requirements. (In Tennessee, voters can use everyday forms of ID as well as handgun carry permits with a photo, but not college IDs.) Six states won’t require any identification at all: California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina and Vermont.
North Carolina passed a strict new photo ID requirement in late 2018, but a judge temporarily blocked its enforcement in a ruling last month. The remaining Super Tuesday states call for local election officials to request a photo ID, but if a voter doesn’t have one, some states allow election officials to sign affidavits attesting to the person’s identity.
More and more states are offering early voting in primaries and general elections, and some states reported robust turnout in early voting leading up to Super Tuesday. Virginia, for instance, surpassed early-voting totals from 2016 — even though both parties held primaries that year and only Democrats are doing so Tuesday. Texas saw a large increase as well; election officials in Arkansas reported a modest dip in early-voting turnout.
Early voting is widely seen as boosting overall turnout by giving voters more opportunities to find time to squeeze in their civic duty. This year’s Democratic nominating contest, however, has also offered a vivid cautionary tale on one risk of early voting: casting a ballot for a candidate who is no longer in the race on Election Day. In most Super Tuesday states, three candidates dropped out after early voting began: former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and investor Tom Steyer.
Some election officials, however, said the narrowing of the field could boost turnout on Election Day by giving voters a stronger sense of the importance of their choice.
Election analysts and political campaigns closely watch the weather forecasts in the days leading up to the vote. High-interest down-ballot contests can also gin up voter enthusiasm in local pockets. In Maine, an unusual citizen-led initiative seeking to overturn a strict new vaccine requirement has attracted widespread attention.
The requirement, enacted last year after a dramatic rise in whooping cough cases in the state, eliminated the exceptions that allowed people to forgo mandatory vaccines for reasons of principle or religion. Opponents of mandatory inoculations, known as anti-vaxxers, quickly organized a petition drive and succeeded in placing a proposal on the ballot to repeal the new law.
Although the initiative is expected to draw heavy interest, it’s hard to say how it will affect the top of the ticket, with many anti-vaxxers coming from all corners of the political spectrum.
Many election officials have avoided calling attention to fears about coronavirus to avoid chilling voter participation. But many are also planning to take extra health precautions during Tuesday’s voting.
John Gardner, the assistant registrar of voters in Solano County, Calif., said Friday that polling places will be equipped with disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer, and that poll workers will be instructed to use both as often as possible. The county will also provide gloves for poll workers who wish to use them, and officials planned to increase the number of drop-off locations where voters can hand in ballots without physically entering a polling place, Gardner said. The first U.S. case of community transmission of coronavirus is a Solano County woman.
Officials in San Francisco — where a state of emergency was recently declared over coronavirus — are also planning to provide extra sanitizing supplies at polling places and in reserve, according to John Arntz, director of the San Francisco Department of Elections.
Outside Northern California, election officials indicated they would take similar steps.
Chris Davis, elections administrator in Williamson County, Tex., near Austin, said polling places would offer hand cleanser and include posters instructing voters and poll workers about good hand-washing practices.
“If they want a touch screen wiped, we can do it. We’ll have the cloths and disinfectant on hand,” Davis said.
A dozen or more candidates will appear on some ballots Tuesday, but only five are still in the national race: Biden, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii), Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.). Because states must mail absentee ballots to overseas voters at least 45 days ahead of each election, the deadline to remove a name from the ballot is often just a few days after the filing deadline. That explains why most ballots will also list entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Steyer, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and even Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), who suspended her campaign in early December.
Colorado election officials have cautioned that votes for the state’s senator, Michael F. Bennet, who dropped out of the Democratic field on Feb. 11, will not be counted.
Voters in Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Utah, Vermont and Virginia will cast ballots only in the presidential primaries Tuesday, with other primaries and ballot issues reserved for later in the year. In the rest of the states, voters will weigh in on several races or issues, varying by county in some cases.
Methods of voting will vary widely on Super Tuesday, including within individual states. In Alabama, for example, election officials have certified at least seven types of ballot-marking devices, optical scanners and other voting technology for use at the county level. By contrast, some voters in Tennessee will make their selections using fully electronic systems without a paper trail, meaning individual ballots cannot be recounted in the event of a contested election.
Such concerns are lower in states that use paper ballots, which experts consider the gold standard for election security. These include Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Virginia. In Colorado and Utah, nearly all voting will take place by mail.
Some counties in a handful of states, including Texas and North Carolina, have recently started using a new generation of equipment known as ballot-marking devices, a hybrid between electronic and paper systems. In those states, voters make their choices on a touch-screen computer but feed a printout of their ballot into an optical scanner.
Proponents say the equipment is new and reliable, allowing voters to check that their selections are correctly marked on the printed ballot — and allowing vote counting to proceed faster after polls close. But critics say that although the ballot shows the name of the voter’s preferred candidate, the scanner reads a bar code — raising the possibility of undetectable scanner errors.
Rigorous post-election audits will take place only in some Super Tuesday states. Colorado has been praised as a leader in the practice. In the event of a recount, Maine will conduct it entirely by hand.
In North Carolina, election officials conduct random audits of voting technology by hand-counting ballot printouts scanned by selected scanning machines and comparing the totals to the counts produced by the machines.
Virtually every state participating in Super Tuesday has taken steps to increase the security of its voting systems in recent years. Yet the potential for hacking or tampering remains in some cases.
Top officials from agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and U.S. Cyber Command warned foreign actors Monday that if they try to interfere on Super Tuesday, they will face “sharp consequences.”
Election officials have sought to counteract these threats with security training, two-factor authentication, simulation activities, and partnerships with law enforcement and independent experts. Tennessee officials have pointed to these steps as they face criticism over paperless voting machines in the state.
California will draw significant attention from cybersecurity experts Tuesday, in part because of the rollout of a new voting system in Los Angeles County.
The Voting Solutions for All People system, which combines mail-in ballots and new electronic voting machines, has been dogged by security concerns, according to a government contracting firm that examined the system, advocates for election security and some local candidates. Election officials have praised it as a step forward for voting accessibility in the country’s largest county and one of its most complex election jurisdictions.
R. Michael Alvarez, a professor of political science at the California Institute of Technology, said he had recently spent several days observing the rollout of the machines in Los Angeles County.
“Like anything else, there are going to be problems,” he said. “But as far as we can tell, so far, they’ve done a great job trying to resolve those problems.”
Election officials around the country have also prepared for attempts by hackers to target voter registration databases and other online assets. Vermont’s system blocked two such attempts in 2018.
“There is no question the Russians, the Iranians, the North Koreans and the Chinese are trying to influence our elections,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos recently told reporters. “What they are trying to do at this point is make us look bad. They want to make democracy look bad.”
Condos said misinformation spread by foreign actors on social media is the biggest threat to election integrity.
“To put it bluntly, if someone wanted to change vote totals by affecting the vote tabulators, they would have to break into the town hall, break into the town clerk’s office, break into the vault, find the equipment, find the memory cards, change them, reconfigure them and then get out before anyone knows,” Condos said.
Polls will open and close on a rolling basis across the country, starting as early as 5 a.m. in some Vermont voting locations. The last precincts to close on the U.S. mainland will do so in California at 11 p.m. Eastern time — but the day’s final votes could be cast in a caucus in American Samoa, the Pacific territory that operates six hours later than the East Coast.
A number of states are expected to release results Tuesday evening. But experts and election officials in several Western states have urged patience ahead of what could be longer counts. In California, same-day voter registration and the wide availability of mail-in ballots — which must be postmarked by Election Day but do not have to reach county election officials until later this week — are expected to contribute to delays of several days. Complicated delegate math could mean that the allocation of delegates might not be known for weeks, said Alvarez.
“What we’re seeing in California is really the culmination in some of the larger counties of a decades-long process toward making California voting more convenient and accessible. Californians have many ways to cast their ballots now and can register through Election Day. It’s just unlikely that election officials are going to be able to sift through, authenticate and tabulate all of the ballots on Election Night,” Alvarez said.
Neena Satija and Joseph Marks contributed to this report.
Two candidates have dropped out since Saturday’s South Carolina primary and ahead of Super Tuesday, remaking the race as 14 states and American Samoa get ready to hold their contests.
The major candidates competing on Super Tuesday are former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is on ballots for the first time.
Policy: Candidates have laid out where they stand on various issues. Answer some of the questions yourself and see who agrees with you.
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