AP NEWS

Biden wins Florida Democratic presidential primary

March 18, 2020 GMT
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Polling station volunteer Dimitri Uglialoro waits for voters for the Florida presidential primary, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Bonita Springs, Fla. Floridians are voting across the state as election officials manage losses of poll workers and changes to polling places because of the coronavirus. There had been concern some polling places might not open on time Tuesday because of worker absences, but no problems have been reported. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Polling station volunteer Dimitri Uglialoro waits for voters for the Florida presidential primary, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Bonita Springs, Fla. Floridians are voting across the state as election officials manage losses of poll workers and changes to polling places because of the coronavirus. There had been concern some polling places might not open on time Tuesday because of worker absences, but no problems have been reported. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla (AP) — Joe Biden handily defeated Bernie Sanders in Florida’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday after the state forged ahead with the vote despite coronavirus fears and some minor glitches in polling.

With 219 delegates at stake, Florida was considered a key showdown between the former vice president and the Vermont senator. The swing state will be crucial for the reelection chances of President Donald Trump, who easily carried Florida, without significant opposition.

Nearly 2 million Floridians had voted early or by mail, some of them to avoid crowds on primary day. On Tuesday, getting to the polls wasn’t easy for voters.

Erika Zambello, of Tallahassee, was worried about crowds and germs. But her fears were allayed when she saw the poll workers with gloves. Zambello said she brought her own pen and a small pack of antibacterial wipes in her baby’s car seat, which she toted, along with the baby, inside.

The precinct had more poll workers than voters when she walked in and she was out within minutes.

“It turned out to be totally OK,” she said. “With all the stress going around, I appreciate that voting was anticlimactic.”

Ohio decided at the last minute to reschedule its primary for June 2, but Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had said “We’re not going to panic” and decided Monday to push ahead with voting. Illinois and Arizona also held their primaries on time.

At least five polling stations couldn’t open in Florida’s Palm Beach County because workers didn’t show up, its elections department said. The county had 800 volunteers pull out as of Monday, with 100 new volunteers offering to take their place.

At least one more, in Broward County, opened late. No significant problems were immediately reported elsewhere. Election Day turnout appeared to be light across the state, in part because 1.9 million Floridians already voted early or by mail.

A coalition of progressive groups cited voting disruptions in a lawsuit seeking to force the state to extend mail-in balloting for the presidential primary into next week.

In the Tampa suburb of Riverview, Nick Campbell, 39, ventured to a polling station with his wife and their 11-year-old daughter, taking precautions to not get infected with COVID-19.

They were armed with masks, but when they saw no other voters, they opted to don only their purple nitrile exam gloves. The door to their polling place — a library — was open, and the four poll workers inside sat behind a table.

“I didn’t touch anything. It was a very sterile operation,” he said.

A coalition of progressive groups cited voting disruptions in a lawsuit seeking to force the state to extend mail-in balloting for the presidential primary into next week.

Jonathan Castoire, a Broward County telecommunications engineer, said it was too dangerous for him to vote, because he has multiple sclerosis and his voting station is in a senior center.

Castoire said he tried calling elections officials for help but got nowhere, leaving him feeling like he has been given “an ultimatum” to choose between his health and his right to vote. “That’s not right,” he said.

DeSantis decided Monday to push ahead with the election, saying it could be run safely. Also voting on Tuesday were Illinois and Arizona; Ohio’s primary was rescheduled at the last minute for June.

“I think you can do it in a way that’s going to protect people,” DeSantis said.

Dream Defenders, New Florida Majority and Organize Florida asked a federal judge on Tuesday to order Florida to allow voters to request a mail-in ballot through March 24 and postpone the count until March 27.

The groups cited the sudden relocation of 112 polling places in 22 counties during the days leading up to the vote and the fear voters will have if they believe they can only vote in person at this point. Also, college students have been suddenly sent home and cannot vote at their registered sites on or near campus, they said.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee said before midday that it still wasn’t too late to pick up and return a vote-by-mail ballot.

The Sunshine State offered the biggest delegate prize of the day’s primaries, and a potential knock-out blow to Sanders, who had an early lead but saw Biden surge ahead in delegate count in a flurry of primaries earlier this month.

Sanders has done well with Latino voters in some other states, but many of them in Florida are exiles from authoritarian socialists regimes who are wary of politicians who lean too far to the left. His praise for the literacy campaign in communist Cuba of the late Fidel Castro was widely seen as a flub.

“Bernie already lost Florida the minute he started talking about Castro,” said Michael Sahdev, 28, an episcopal priest in Coral Gables, who voted for Biden early Tuesday.

“We are desperate for some stability, we are desperate for true morality and someone who can bring us together as a nation,” Sahdev said. “And Trump is not doing that.”

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Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami contributed to this report.