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Florida urges early voting, Arizona seeks backup poll workers, as coronavirus fears spread

Florida's government urged voters to consider voting early in its Democratic presidential nominating contest, and Arizona braced for the possibility of poll workers staying home as U.S. election officials assessed the spreading coronavirus's toll.
In Michigan, one of six states that vote Tuesday in the next round of the state-by-state nominating competition, officials told poll workers to step up plans to sanitize voting booths and other equipment. Washington state - the hardest hit state in the country - caught a break because its Tuesday contest is vote-by-mail.
Health officials around the world are scrambling to slow the spread of the virus, which has sickened more than 111,000 people globally, including 566 in the United States.
Fears of the spread of the virus have led officials to cancel events and conferences across the country, including a planned Saturday event by Democrats in Washington state.
So far, the top Democratic candidates - former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders - have not called off major campaign events due to the virus.
Biden told NBC on Monday that he would consider calling off rallies if health authorities warned they were too risky
"I'm looking to the CDC for advice on that," Biden said, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."We're going to follow the recommendations of the experts ... and if they conclude that there shouldn't be big indoor rallies, then we'll stop big indoor rallies."
The winner of the Democratic nomination battle, which has essentially narrowed the field to Sanders and Biden, will take on Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 general election. Trump has said he would not stop holding campaign rallies.
In Florida, election officials seeking to keep residents from standing on long lines, on Monday encouraged absentee and early voting in the state's primary on March 17.
Arizona officials are bracing for the possibility that poll workers will not show up on March 17 due to illness or fear. They are combing through a statewide volunteer database to identify potential replacements if needed, according to the Arizona Department of State.
In Cook County, Illinois, which includes Chicago, officials are seeking the power to extend voting hours on March 17, reassign early voting locations and even change voting days in the event of an extraordinary circumstance, according to Frank Herrera, a spokesman for the county clerk's office.
Florida, the nation's third most populous state and home to a large population of elderly people, has 19 confirmed cases of the virus. Its Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, has declared a state of emergency.
Florida officials on Monday said all residents returning from travel from China, Iran, South Korea or Italy must self-quarantine for 14 days. Earlier, state officials had made a similar statement pertaining to all foreign travel.
State voters who have symptoms can designate someone to pick up their absentee ballots up until election day, Laurel Lee, Florida's secretary of state, wrote on Twitter on Monday.
They also emailed local election officials recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how to prepare polling places amid the spread of the virus.
The recommendations include advising poll workers to stay home if they feel ill and steady cleaning of voting locations throughout the day.
In Orlando, Florida, a forum for the presidential candidates that had been scheduled for Thursday was canceled due to coronavirus concerns, said Carolyn Bobb, a spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO.
In Mississippi, which holds its primary on Tuesday, Secretary of State Michael Watson offered health tips and advice.
"We're encouraging voters to make sure they wash their hands as often as possible and continue to practice good hygiene," he said in a statement. "With no confirmed cases in our state, we obviously still want to remain cautious. We encourage all Mississippians to go vote."


© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020.
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