After Florida Held Its Primary Amid Pandemic, Two Poll Workers Tested Positive for Coronavirus

Florida is one of three states that pushed forward with March 17 primaries, even though in-person voting carries risks amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

A security guard watches through the front door of the Broward County Supervisor Of Elections Office as mail in votes are counted on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Lauderhill, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
A security guard watches through the front door of the Broward County Supervisor Of Elections Office as mail-in votes are counted on March 17, 2020, in Lauderhill, Fla. Photo: Brynn Anderson/AP

Two Florida poll workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus since the March 17 primary, which was held contrary to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention against large gatherings to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Both of the workers were stationed at polls in Broward County, in the southeast part of the state. A spokesperson for the Broward County Supervisor of Elections said on Thursday that all 16 poll workers who worked alongside the workers who tested positive have been contacted by the supervisor’s office. Election officials are also advising anyone who might have voted at those locations, both in the city of Hollywood, “to take appropriate steps and seek medical advice.” 

One of the Florida workers who tested positive “was a greeter, and would not have been required to come into near proximity or contact with any of the 204 voters who cast ballots at the precinct on Election Day,” a spokesperson told the Miami Herald. ( It’s unclear how a greeter would greet people without being near them.) The other worker checked in voters and likely handled the ID cards of some of the 61 people who voted at that polling location. 

March 17 was the first election day after the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic, and in an open letter to the Democratic National Committee and the secretaries of state for the four states with scheduled primaries (Florida, Illinois, Arizona, and Ohio), thousands called for the primaries to be postponed to May. Many states had already declared a state of emergency, shutting down schools, restaurants, and public areas to try to slow the spread of the virus.

Florida, along with Illinois and Arizona, pressed forward anyway. Ohio, meanwhile, set an almost completely mail-in primary for April 28, out of concern for public safety and in part because of fears that the pandemic would suppress turnout. 

Even as the primaries in those states progressed, voting was impacted by the pandemic. In Maricopa County, Arizona’s most populous county, 80 polling locations were eliminated because they didn’t have the supplies needed to keep them clean. In Chicago, about 850 election judges had informed the Cook County Clerk’s office that they would not be showing up on primary election day and nearly 200 sites were relocated last minute, confusing voters. And nearly 50 housing facilities for low-income seniors were used as polling locations, putting a high-risk population at greater risk.

On March 15, the CDC had issued guidance warning against gatherings of larger than 50 people, and public health officials had been urging caution for even small gatherings. Despite experts’ warnings, a coalition of progressive and voting rights groups, organized by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’ Voting Rights Task Force, cheered on the states that planned to hold elections as normal, claiming that postponing elections was tantamount to voter suppression. Even groups like the Center for American Progress, which otherwise urged elected officials to take appropriate action in response to the crisis, criticized Louisiana for postponing its election from April 4 to June 20.

Georgia, whose primary was scheduled for March 24, has rescheduled its elections for May 19. Indiana, Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico have also moved to postpone their primaries.

Alaska and Hawaii are holding their April 4 primaries entirely by mail, while Wisconsin is planning to vote on April 7. In Wisconsin, federal lawsuits have been filed against the state’s Elections Commission and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers administration to try to delay the election and have it carried out entirely by mail. “The City is finding it functionally impossible to comply with both the Wisconsin Election Commission’s established procedures for administering the election and the directives of health officials,” said a legal complaint filed by the city of Green Bay. Evers has asked the Republican-held legislature to send absentee ballots to the state’s registered voters ahead of the scheduled election, but it is so far unclear whether that will happen.

Join The Conversation