Presidential primary voters arriving steadily at polls

DOVER – Delaware’s presidential primary commenced this morning, with walk-in voters seen arriving steadily at Dover, Smyrna and Cheswold polling places during a time when an atypically high number of absentee ballots have already been received.

Polls will remain open until 8 p.m. statewide for those registered with a party affiliation. That’s also the deadline time for absentee voters to deliver their ballots to the elections office that issued them.

Democrats are choosing between Joseph Biden and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, while Republicans can tab either President Donald Trump or businessman Rocky De La Fuente.

Polling locations across Sussex County 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.

A volunteer working at the polls at Shields Elementary School in Lewes, Sherita Belle, said her location certainly observed lower voter 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 lack of campaigning or signage posted around the voting vicinities. Inside polling locations, all voters and volunteers had to follow new health precautions such as wearing facial coverings and standing 6 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 6-feet distancing, and we’re wearing masks,” said elections volunteer Charlie Joseph, who was also working at Shields Elementary.

Polling location volunteers speculated that low voter turnout could be a combined result of COVID-19, the rise in popularity of voting by mail, and the seemingly decided outcome, among other potential factors.

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