Trump, Biden win primary that draws record absentee votes

Absentee clerks Kristi Day, left, and Jennifer Glanden verify absentee votes at the Kent County Department of Elections in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

President Donald Trump and Delaware’s Joe Biden won their respective primaries Tuesday in an election that drew unusually high numbers of absentee ballots.

President Donald Trump lead the Republican ticket with more than 23,000 votes, 87% of those cast, to businessman Rocky De La Fuente’s nearly 3,300 or 12%. For President Trump, 7,136 were cast by absentee ballot.

Former Vice President Biden won over 60,000 votes, with over 41,000 cast by absentee ballot and receiving nearly 90% of the Democratic vote.

On the Democratic ticket, Sen. Bernie Sanders won 7% of the Democratic votes, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 3%.

New Castle County demonstrated the largest Democratic lead per county with a large majority of its votes cast for Biden. Sussex and Kent counties both saw a stronger divide between voters with Sussex seeing comparable numbers of voters for Biden and Trump, according to unofficial results that weren’t final as of 11 p.m. Tuesday.

The state saw a record number of votes by absentee ballot toppling at over 53,000 absentees counted, rivaling the number of people who voted in-person, an unusual pattern in any primary election.

Polling locations across Kent and Sussex counties saw relatively low in-person voter turnout for Tuesday’s presidential primary amidst the new COVID-19 cases and the increase of voting by absentee ballot, according to the Delaware Department of Elections.

Absentee clerks Amber Skinner, left, and Marcy Gomez, center, listen to Director Doris Young as she details the procedure to verifying absentee votes at the Kent County Department of Elections in Dover on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

A volunteer working at the polls at Shields Elementary School in Lewes, Sherita Belle, said her location certainly observed lower turnout than previous primary elections.

“It’s been very, very slow today, and that could be contributed to the pandemic and COVID-19,” Ms. Belle said. “This is very different from four years ago.”

Many polling locations in Sussex were uncrowded for the majority of the day, with a surprising lack of campaigning or signage posted around the voting vicinities. Inside polling locations, voters and volunteers had to follow new health precautions such as wearing facial coverings and standing six feet away from others.

“We have day supplies with all the cleaning materials necessary, not only to clean the voting sign-in pads, but also the voting machines. We’ve got stickers for the floor for six feet distancing, and we’re wearing masks,” said elections volunteer Charlie Joseph, who was also working at Shields Elementary.

Poll volunteers speculated that low voter turnout could be a combined result of COVID-19, the rise in popularity of voting by mail, and the low number of candidates on the ballots, among other potential factors.

Gretchen Fox, a volunteer at the Cape Henlopen High School polling location in Lewes, said she found Tuesday’s turnout unsurprising.

“I was hoping for more, because being busy is always better than sitting, but I’m not surprised by it just because of COVID, and because of the demographics of Lewes, a lot of people have done write ins,” Ms. Fox said. “And a lot of people may look at it as, the candidates are already set because it’s just a primary for presidential, that you only have one option or the other. Plus, the only people that can vote are the people registered for that specific party.”

Delaware is a closed primary state, meaning only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote for their party’s candidates.

The Delaware Department of Elections acknowledged Monday that absentee ballots were high. State Election Commissioner Anthony Albence said his staff had counted over 53,000 absentee ballots the day before the election, a staggering increase compared to previous years. In 2016’s presidential primary election, only 5,046 people voted by absentee ballot, just over 3% of total votes counted in that election.

While commending the state for expanded options, Clayton’s Lynne Newlin ultimately chose to vote as she always has.

“I considered the mail-in but I like coming to the polls,” she said. “I think it’s important to exercise that right in person when at all possible but I am very glad to see the high number of applications for absentee ballots sent out because it gives opportunity for everyone in the time of the coronavirus.

“It allows everyone a chance to take part even if they don’t want to get out and do it in person. I think state leadership did well to make that happen.”

Even though only 24 of the 73 Sussex polling locations listed on the Delaware election website were open, most of those locations rarely saw lines of voters form, if at all.

Carole Suchanek, a volunteer at the Rehoboth Elementary polling location who has been involved in Delaware elections since 2010, said “Normally, in this area we’d have seven places to vote. They cut it to three. But we’re still not seeing a big crowd because of the absentee ballots, plus it’s a primary. People don’t always vote as much in a primary.”

Another abnormality Tuesday was registered voters could vote at any polling location in their county rather than being assigned a location by district. According to Commissioner Albence, that accommodation is exclusive to Tuesday’s election and was made to allow voters the option to visit another location, due to more than two-thirds of polling locations across the state remaining closed.

Mr. Albence also said there was additional voting equipment deployed at many polling locations to cut back on wait time. Also, all polling locations used new touch screen tablets to sign-in voters more effectively as the tablets can scan driver’s licenses and allow digital signatures.

For some Delawareans at least, walking into a voting booth was the only way to go on Tuesday.

Emerging from Smyrna High School around 9 a.m., Rich Trinicia said he decided to take no chances and registered his vote in person.

“I’m just scared that a mail-in ballot could be lost. There could be a lot of fraud,” he said.

“I’m not saying there’s anything bad going on but there are a lot of moving parts that just make me uncomfortable. This way I know I saw myself do it.”

Continuing his tradition of voting in every election since 1966, Bob Tarbotton emerged from the Cheswold Fire Hall satisfied with his choice to stop by himself.

“I even got paperwork but I chose not to mail it in,” he said. “Everything they have tried to do just makes it so complicated for me and I just don’t need that.”

Simply put, Cheswold’s James Garrett said, “It’s better to show up in person. Sometimes you lose mail, you lose checks. I’d rather be in person just to see that I did it.”

According to Altamese Caldwell-Stevens in Dover, “I would have mailed in my vote but decided to come inside because it just feels like you’re taking part a little bit more.”

Dover’s Carolyn Jones said she’d heard “too many stories of the fraud, whether they’re lost intentionally or accidentally and that just wrong.”

As she exited East Dover Elementary School, Ms. Jones recalled elections of many years ago. “I can still remember when my mother used to vote in the 40s and 50s and she would dress up in a suit, her nylon stockings, high heels and a hat,” she recalled. “It was a very important trip for her to take and it’s important for me as well.”

Staunch views emerge

Many within the electorate arrived with staunch views in a time chock full of social unrest and divisiveness in so many ways.

“My voice needed to be heard,” Darlyn Yusuf said in Smyrna.

“We need a change in our president. We need to change for my kids and my grandkids. Everything matters no matter  what color of skin is involved and we need a president that is open, transparent, humane, just the things required in a leadership role to move the country forward instead of back.”

Patty Hartmannsgruber of Dover reasoned, “In 2016 a lot of people didn’t vote and we’ve been paying the price ever since.”

A former Republican, Mr. Tarbotton said he arrived from Pennsylvania and switched affiliation here because “everything in Delaware is Democrat.

“I’m very comfortable with knowing who I’m not voting for.

“I refuse to vote for someone whose defense is that he can’t read. What good is that for someone to be president?”

Just as committed in their views were husband and wife Milton and Barbara Davis, who arrived wearing shirts with an American flag and reading “I stand for the First Amendment. I kneel for the cross.”

Saying he arrived to support “The First Amendment, freedom of speech,” Mr. Davis voluntarily revealed he voted for “Trump. Look what Democrats are doing to the United States of America, all the governors who are not doing anything for law and order. That’s going to be the big demise.

“Biden has had 48 to 50 years in government and Trump has gotten more stuff done in 3 1/2 years than most other (presidents) did in eight.”

Leaving no doubt where he stood, Dover’s Larry Roll said “I’m here to get President Trump elected and hopefully turn Delaware into a red state. I’m a proud American that’s very distraught with the way things are going right now.”

When asked what she’s looking for in a president, Smyrna’s Rhonda Denson answered “Honesty, integrity, values, trustworthiness, all of what you look for in any human being. “Especially if they’re going to represent our country, we want to make sure they’re doing the right things.”

Among the younger voters, Steve Cherebin, 23, of Cheswold said he voted for the first time in 2016 and returned because “It’s important to show that your voice matters, everybody’s voice matters. I try to show that I’m socially aware.”

Regarding a president’s preferred qualities, Mr. Cherebin said he valued a candidate “who stands truthful to his word. All you have as a man is your word.”

Mr. Garrett said he was “looking for a candidate who is not only going to represent but show a lot of professionalism and show they can be a leader across the board for a lot of people.”

Though Linda Griffith of Clayton hoped in vain for Sen. Warren to emerge as the presidential candidate, she was now especially focused on electing a leader who could “get this virus under control.”

Whoever takes the election in November has a lot of work to do, Ms. Newlin said.

“We’re in trouble. Our country is becoming very divided and we need to once again rally as a country and come together,” she said. “We are all Americans regardless of which party we are in and I think we have more in common than opposing views.”

With so many hot button topics vexing the country right now, Cheswold’s Allison Garrett said, “I’ve never paid as much attention to political views as I do now. It’s something that I see now that I need to be more involved with the process.

“You can’t complain about something if you’re not taking part in it.”

Farrin Stanton of Lewes voiced similar sentiments.

“With the current state of affairs in this country, now more than ever it’s important to vote and make sure our voices are heard,” she said while voting with her mother, Shirleeta Stanton.

“I just like coming out in-person to vote, and I’m glad there’s not a crowd with corona lurking,” Shirleeta Stanton said. “That isn’t to say I wouldn’t consider voting by mail in the future.”

The two praised the atmosphere regarding COVID-19 precautions. “Everyone was keeping their distance, everyone was wearing masks, and everyone was really nice, and they got us out quick, in and out,” Farrin Stanton said.