Florida primary election: Coronavirus edition

Welcome to Election Day in Florida! Despite postponements elsewhere, the Sunshine State has decided it will go through with its presidential preference primary after all.

As restaurants and bars close and the CDC recommends groups of no more than 10 gather, South Florida has responded — or freaked out — by buying enough toilet paper to satisfy its sanitary needs until 2024.

It also looks like a higher-than-average number of people voted early, trying to avoid contact with what we now most fear: other people. Follow our team coverage throughout the day here as well as on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Stories will be edited by Dan Evans, Chuck Strouse and Hugo Ottolenghi, all professors at FIU’s School of Communication + Journalism. Our student reporters are: Tamica Jean-Charles, Steven Lopez, Laure Ambroise, Nimechi Ikechi-Uko and Camila Insuasti.

– Dan Evans

***

[8:06 p.m.] 28-year-old nurse Laurah Cesare did not vote in the primary this year. She said she does not trust any of the candidates. In her opinion, neither Biden nor Sanders are potential winners. “I don’t think that what the candidates are saying will benefit the people,” said Cesare. “They have great ideas that will not be in favor of the majority of the people.”

She is also concerned about the coronavirus during the elections.

“Even if I wanted to vote today, I would not attend any poll because of the coronavirus,” she said. “It was already hard for me to get to work.”

– Laure Ambroise

***

[7:55 p.m.] 35-year-old Cyneisia Peroy of Lauderhill voted for Bernie Sanders by mail. She said the process was really simple, as the instructions were easy.
She picked Sanders as her preferred Democratic candidate because she likes the change he wants to make in people’s lives.
“I like his idea of health care,” she said. “I think that’s something he should push for. I feel like he understands our fight more than the other candidates.”
Peroy said Sanders is more relatable because he works with generations of black and brown people. “He’s been in a march with Martin Luther King, with us, so he can make decisions that I think he can consider that are hard to be in.”

– Camila Insuasti 

***

[6:13 p.m.] Despite the coronavirus scare, Roberta Braxton, a 20-year-old KFC employee, went to the polls in Hollywood to vote in person. She made sure to wear gloves to be safe. There were fewer than 15 people at the site.

“Voting by mail is too tedious,” said Braxton.

She voted for Bernie Sanders.

“He seems like the best candidate to get things done,” she said. “Things that will positively affect my generation and age group.”

– Nimechi Ikechi-Uko

***

[4:30 p.m.] Lionel Baugh and his spouse intended to vote in the primary today, but out of concern of the coronavirus, they made the decision to cast their ballots early.

From the start, Baugh was open to many of the candidates. Last week, the 67-year-old executive coach voted for former Vice President Joe Biden, who he believes is the only candidate that is “going to do what’s necessary.”

Baugh is not super confident in Biden and finds his campaign to be mediocre, but still considers him a viable-enough candidate to take on the president.

“We need to get rid of Donald Trump,” said Baugh.

– Tamica Jean-Charles

***

[4:30 p.m.] 26-year-old Mike Contreras voted for Bernie Sanders, whose plans and ideas, he said, align with his beliefs.

Though the South Miami native said it’s important to take precautions against the coronavirus, he said he felt comfortable going to the polls because of his youth.

“I feel obligated to vote as an American citizen, which is a right many people around the world would die for.”

– Steven Lopez 

***
[3:59 p.m.] 23-year-old Kyra Chandler is an independent and could not vote in the primary, which is open only to members of particular parties.

“I think that these elections were complicated, and a lot of people dropped out,” said the FIU graduate student.

Still, she said she likes former Vice President Joe Biden.

“I like that Biden supports free college tuition for many students,” said Chandler. “He also seems to care about me since he is the only candidate who sends daily emails about his campaign.”

– Laure Ambroise

***

[3:44 p.m.] South Miami High School teacher John Arias is getting sick and thinks he may have contracted the coronavirus. The 49-year-old Republican said he is staying home in Doral and keeping away from others.

“I don’t want to affect the less fortunate individual in our society such as the elderly,” he said.

Arias, whose birthday is coming up, said that Joe Biden has cognitive issues and Bernie Sanders’ opinions about Cuba makes him a no-go.

“My grandfather was a political prisoner in Cuba so you can imagine how I feel,” he said.

Arias said he will “most likely” vote for President Donald Trump by mail — because he doesn’t think the Democrats will give him much of an option.

– Camila Insuasti 

***

[3 p.m.] Jennifer Lanzas voted on March 9 by mail not because of COVID-19, but for time and convenience. She participated in the Democratic primary even though she prefers President Donald Trump.

“I voted for someone that I really didn’t want to vote for,” said Lanzas.

She registered as a Democrat when she was 18 to vote for Barack Obama because his platform included access to health insurance for everyone, something she considers vital.

Lanzas participated in this primary because she thinks her most important responsibility as a citizen is to vote. Even a single vote can make a difference, she said.

“I cannot give up the chance to choose the next possible leader of the country.”

While Lanzas wants Trump to win the general election, she voted for Joe Biden. She has been following his campaign through online news from WPLG 10, Channel 7, FOX News and CNN.

Lanzas said she will be satisfied should Biden becomes president because of his experience as vice president. He will raise America to be a strong nation, she said, and will “bring the unity this country needs.”

– Nimechi Ikechi-Uko

***

[2:55 p.m.] According to the Miami Herald, requests to extend the deadline for vote-by-mail ballots have been denied. Why? Well, partly because officials don’t think that many people are going to show up — something that appears at least anecdotally true so far today.

“Precinct-based voting is unlike the types of gatherings we have been advised to avoid in Florida,’’ Secretary of State Laurel Lee said. “We are in the presidential preference primary so we are not expecting large crowds or long lines.”

Concerns didn’t stop one local couple from voting, however.

– Dan Evans

***

[2:44 p.m.] Anabella Cruz voted by mail this year.

Cruz, a 32-year-old Democrat, said she avoided the polls due to the coronavirus scare.

“I voted for Biden, and I think he is the best option,” she said. “I voted for him because as a Venezuelan, I can relate more to him than Sanders. I don’t agree with Sanders’ policies.”

– Laure Ambroise

***

[1:57 p.m.] 22-year-old Karla Aguilera took to the polls today despite the ongoing concern with COVID-19.

“I took gloves and I have hand sanitizer ready in my car,” said the FIU law school student. “I also trust the employees to keep the facility clean for everyone.”

The decision was too important to ignore, she said.

“It is very important for me to voice my opinion,” said Aguilera, who cast her ballot for former Vice President Joe Biden. “The ability to vote is not something we should take for granted.”

– Steven Lopez

***

[1:24 p.m.] FIU student Briana Rushton voted at the university’s early voting site before many of the closures and social distancing guidelines came out.

“I voted for Bernie Sanders,” she said. “He is the only candidate that has been consistent with his views.”

Rushton said she felt she doesn’t have the privilege to simply ignore politics.

“Everything that will be on that ballot … will affect me as a black woman in America,” she said. “So, to vote in the primaries is important because it will alter what I am looking at or voting for.”

– Nimechi Ikechi-Uko

***

[12:52 p.m.] There are reports of people packing bars today — perhaps to get ahead of Gov. Ron Desantis’ 30-day ban on such establishments starting at 5 p.m. — but the polls seem, well, quiet.

Voters who still plan on casting a ballot today would be wise to make sure their regular polling place hasn’t moved. Miami-Dade residents can find out by checking here, while Broward County voters can check here.

– Dan Evans

***

[12:22 p.m.] Maribel Gonzalez will not be voting this year. The 66-year-old, who is from Cuba, has been living in Miami for the last 10 years.

“I don’t even know the names of the people because I’m not focused on that,” she said durning an interview last night. “I am focusing on becoming a citizen first.”

– Camila Insuasti 

***
[12:15 p.m.] 73-year-old Julia Carter said coronavirus concerns will not stop her from voting.

She said she has always voted in person and will be flexing her civic muscles today at Kelsey Pharr Elementary School in Brownsville.

“I’m voting for Joe Biden,” Carter said during an interview last night. “ I just like what he be saying and stuff. I want better education. It’s the right thing to do. You have to pay attention to what he says.”

– Camila Insuasti 

***
[9:54 a.m.] Corin Matthews, a student at FIU and an Orlando resident, voted by mail on March 15. She recently changed her registration from independent to Democrat so she could take part in the primary.

“These are the rights that my fellow women have fought for many years to obtain,” she said. “I voted for Bernie Sanders.”

Matthews said that she voted for the Vermont senator because of his economic and health care plans. Despite putting the ballot in the mail Sunday, she said she is concerned about it not getting to the Orange County election’s office on time.

– Nimechi Ikechi-Uko

***
[7:47 a.m.] To start the day, I head over to a polling place in Miami Shores. On the way, NPR announces that 76% of Democrats and only 40% of Republicans believe coronavirus is a threat, according to a Marist poll.

As I enter, a middle-aged man walks out wearing a mask. There is no one else there casting a ballot. When I cite the statistic, one of the five poll workers in the place says: “But everything is closed.” She shakes her head in disbelief.

I clean my pen with disinfectant, fill in my ballot and put it through the machine. The place has been open for 45 minutes. I am the seventh person to vote, according to the computer screen. “It’s quiet,” says the poll worker helping me.

– Chuck Strouse

Originally from the southwest coast of Florida, Tamica Jean-Charles is a journalism student at Florida International University. When she graduates she hopes to cover culture and urban communities for a big city. When she is not working, Tamica loves to attend local concerts and source out the best Haitian food in South Florida.

Nimechi Ikechi-Uko is a senior studying Journalism at FIU. She has an interest in writing. Her goals are to work for the Washington Post and get a book published.

Camila Insuasti is a Colombian-American currently working on her broadcast media and marketing degrees. Camila has dedicated her career experience to original, creative and cultural writing. She covers politics, arts, entertainment and culture.