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Voter turnout low as coronavirus impacts Florida primary election

Early statistics show turnout as low as 20%

ORLANDO, Fla. – With Florida’s presidential preference primary falling over spring break, elections officials always assumed voter turnout would be much lower than in 2016, when the lack of an incumbent president drove voters from all political parties to the polls.

But new concerns about COVID-19 may have also kept some voters at home today.

"Turnout is maybe around 20-something percent, which is really low," said Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles. "But polls are open. Voters are coming out. So we're moving forward."

Voters who did make it to their neighborhood precinct likely found short or non-existent lines of people waiting to cast a ballot, while poll workers wiped down pens and voting booths with cleaning products.

"I hope this virus hasn't stopped us from coming out," said Howard Gentry as he emerged from his polling location at a church off Kirkman Road. "This is very important to our country."

Throughout Florida, some poll workers were unable to show up for duty because they were stuck at home babysitting or tending to loved ones, prompting elections officials to recruit fill-in poll workers.

"It's important for you to have your voice heard. Honestly, if we all sit at home, you can't complain about it," said Pat O'Rourke, a restaurant industry employee who is grappling with the financial uncertainly caused by the coronavirus. "The polling places are taking more than enough precautions. The hand sanitizer. The distancing. The eliminating of people in any given area. They're doing everything they need to now, as long as we're doing what we need to do. Come in, cast your vote, and you're done."

Neither of the two leading Democratic presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, held rallies in Central Florida ahead of today's primary vote, potentially dampening enthusiasm even more.

Florida is one of three states, along with Illinois and Arizona, holding presidential preference primaries Tuesday.

Ohio abruptly postponed its primaries just hours before polls were scheduled to open due to concerns about COVID-19.

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