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8 States And D.C. Hold Primary Elections Amid Pandemic And Civil Unrest


Amid the protests we just talked about and a global pandemic which continues, primary elections are being held today in eight states and the District of Columbia. Voters were encouraged to cast their ballots by mail, but hundreds of polling sites were still open for voting in person, and officials braced for potential disruptions. NPR's Pam Fessler covers voting, and she is with us now.

Pam, thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: And how have things been going so far?

FESSLER: So far, pretty smoothly considering the pandemic and all the unrest. It appears that most voters took the advice of officials and cast their ballots by mail or voted early. But a limited number of polling sites were open - so for those who wanted to vote in person or who maybe didn't get their absentee ballot on time, which does seem to be a problem in a number of places. For example, in Philadelphia, Elaina Di Monaco, she never got her ballot, so she had to come out and vote today.

ELAINA DI MONACO: I mean, I think that people have been staying home and social distancing. And if there's any reason to leave your house right now, it's to vote or to be present at one of these protests.

FESSLER: And also, because of those protests, there were new concerns about delivery delays. So yesterday, Pennsylvania's governor, Tom Wolf, extended the deadline for mail-in ballots in six counties so they could be received next week even if they're postmarked - as long as they're postmarked today. And then, of course, there were concerns about the coronavirus. But it - the reports are that in most polling places, they were practicing social distancing and that voters and poll workers were wearing masks.

MARTIN: What about the heavy police and National Guard presence in so many cities that Mary Louise just spoke about in her report from Atlanta - because of the ongoing unrest? I mean, does that seem to be having an effect on people's willingness to come out?

FESSLER: You know, obviously, we don't know who was discouraged from coming out, but it was definitely a concern. But the only thing that we've heard so far - there were some reports in Pennsylvania of some African American voters feeling uncomfortable going to vote because of the extra police presence. One place was Wilkinsburg, a town near Pittsburgh, where the main polling site is in the same building as police headquarters. So some of the voters there said they were uncomfortable. But it's really more about preparing for potential problems.

Baltimore, they shut down their election office early yesterday because it's right across the street from City Hall, where most of the protests have been. And the office was open today, but they did make sure to move all the absentee ballots to another location, you know, just in case. Most election offices just said they were staying in close touch with law enforcement and National Guard and monitoring the situation to make sure there were no problems with voters getting to the polls. And we honestly have not seen any yet.

MARTIN: And some of these places also had curfews. Correct? I mean, how is that affecting voting?

FESSLER: Well, that is kind of interesting. I mean, there are curfews in many of these places, but voters are supposed to be exempt. For example, there's a 7 p.m. curfew tonight in Washington, D.C., even though polls are open until 8. And city authorities have been repeatedly saying that the curfew does not apply to anyone who is coming out to vote. But tensions are pretty high here after last night's protest, and so it remains to see how this is going to be enforced.

MARTIN: And just before we let you go - very briefly, Pam, does what's happening today raise any red flags for November?

FESSLER: Well, first about mail-in voting, clearly, they have a lot of kinks to work out. And also, voters and election officials really need to be prepared for just about anything. You know, with all this unrest, people are even questioning, you know, could the election be delayed? But the president certainly doesn't have any power to do that. But people just need to be prepared for any kind of disruption.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Pam Fessler.

Pam, thank you.

FESSLER: Thanks a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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