Voters casting primary ballots in 5 states amid protests and a pandemic. Here's what to watch for
Voters in five states are casting ballots Tuesday in primary elections amid nationwide protests over racial discrimination and a pandemic that has killed more than 111,000 people in the U.S.
The virus spurred all the states voting Tuesday – Georgia, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia – to urge their voters to cast ballots by mail to avoid crowded polling stations that may risk spreading the infection. Nevada and North Dakota have shifted to almost entirely mail-in voting for the primary.
Absentee or mail-in votes generally take more time to tabulate than in-person votes that can be quickly scanned. Combined with a shortage of election workers caused by fears of exposure to the virus, officials in all the states voting Tuesday have cautioned it could take longer than usual to count the votes and the results may be slow to come in.
Turnout will be a critical metric that Democratic and Republican operatives will watch closely for early indications of what to expect in November. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden will be counting on high participation from voters as he seeks to defeat President Donald Trump.
After two postponements due to the coronavirus outbreak, Georgia voters have been waiting to cast their ballots in the primary originally scheduled for March 24.
Many of those voters had to wait some more on Tuesday as widespread problems were reported with Georgia's new voting system, which combines digital touchscreens with paper ballots. Some voters said they had to stand in line for as long as three hours to cast their vote.
Georgia sent absentee ballot applications to all active registered voters, but some of those in line said their requested mail-in ballot never arrived.
The top race to watch is among the Democrats vying to take on Sen. David Perdue in the fall. The contenders in that race are Jon Ossoff, a former journalist who lost a close, and expensive, special congressional election in 2017; former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson; former candidate for lieutenant governor Sarah Riggs Amico; former ACLU of Georgia head Maya Dillard Smith; Air Force veteran James Knox and former state Senate candidate Marckeith DeJesus.
If none of those candidates gets more than 50% of the vote, the two with the most support will move to an Aug. 11 runoff.
Perdue, a close ally of Trump, is seeking a second term and drew no GOP primary opposition.
Though Georgia has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate in two decades and had not broken for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, Democrats are hopeful they can make the state competitive if turnout is high, particularly among the state's large African-American population.
Tuesday will be an important glance into how mobilized voters in the state are to cast their ballots amid the turmoil of the George Floyd protests and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Monday that more than 1.2 million Georgians have already voted, most of them with absentee ballots.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., won the Nevada Democratic presidential caucuses in February, the Republican presidential caucuses were canceled and there are no U.S. Senate seats on the ballot in 2020. So, the only federal elections in Nevada this year are the four U.S. House members up for reelection.
Three of those seats are held by Democrats. Democratic Rep. Dina Titus and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei are considered safe bets for reelection. Reps. Steven Horsford and Susie Lee are in more competitive districts. Lee is facing two Democratic challengers and six Republican candidates are battling to take her on in November. Horsford is facing five primary challengers as eight candidates face off on the Republican side.
Nevada's Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske announced in March the primary would be held almost entirely by mail with 20 in-person voting sites open Tuesday across the entire state. The move faced legal challenges from both Democrats and Republicans but judges refused to intervene.
North Dakota's primary will also be held almost exclusively by mail. There are no competitive primaries for statewide office or any statewide ballot measures.
But Republican Gov. Doug Burgum is heavily invested in Tuesday's outcomes. The former software executive – who made headlines with his emotional plea not to harass people wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus – has given $1.85 million to a political action campaign that is largely focused on unseating state GOP House Appropriations Chairman Jeff Delzer, who has clashed with Burgum over policy and spending priorities.
Burgum also is backing Fargo businessman and state GOP Rep. Thomas Beadle for treasurer against state Rep. Daniel Johnston, who is seen as a member of the far-right wing of the Republican-controlled Legislature that has been critical of the governor. Johnston has the support of U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer and Trump.
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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham is facing three Republican primary challengers ahead of what is expected to be a very expensive race to hold his seat against Democrat Jaime Harrison.
Attorney Duke Buckner, engineer Joe Reynolds and former corporate executive Michael Lapierre are all mounting long-shot campaigns to put an early end to Graham's quest for a fourth term.
Harrison, who is unopposed in Tuesday's primary to become Graham's Democratic challenger, has raised nearly $15 million for the campaign. Graham has raised $21 million.
State legislators passed a law allowing universal absentee voting because of the pandemic. State election officials mailed out about 167,000 absentee ballots and had 121,000 of them returned as of last week.
About 250 in-person voting stations had to be moved because of the virus and about 150 members of the State Guard will help at those locations due to a shortage of poll workers.
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The West Virginia primary election was originally scheduled for May 12, but was moved back to June 9 due to the pandemic. All registered voters were sent absentee ballots and about 14% of them have already used them to cast their votes.
In 2014, then-Rep. Shelley Capito became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from West Virginia. Now, she is seeking to become the first Republican senator to be reelected in the state since 1907. She faces two primary challengers – Allen Whitt, president of the Family Policy Council of West Virginia, and former craftsman Larry Butcher.
The Democrats looking to unseat Capito are former state Sen. Richard Ojeda – who ran a brief Democratic presidential primary campaign, former South Charleston Mayor Richie Robb and Paula Jean Swearengin, a progressive from a coal-mining family who was featured in the Netflix documentary "Knock Down the House."
Gov. Jim Justice, who was elected as Democrat before switching parties, is trying to fend off six Republican challengers, including his former commerce secretary, Woody Thrasher, and ex-state delegate Mike Folk. The other GOP candidates are retired real estate agent Shelby Jean Fitzhugh, real estate and insurance agent Brooke Lunsford, retired Division of Highways administrator Charles Sheedy and farmer Doug Six.
Contributing: James DeHaven, Reno Gazette-Journal; Liz Beavers, Mineral (W.V.) Daily News-Tribune; The Associated Press