Politics

Coronavirus and the election: Washington state primary voters urged not to lick mail-in ballots

Key Points
  • Primary Election Day could have been a lot worse for officials in Washington state, epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak: The state votes entirely by mail.
  • "Whether healthy or sick, please don't lick," reads a graphic posted to Twitter by an account run by the office of Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
  • The lack of in-person voting is a rare spot of good news for the state as it bears the brunt of the new contagion.
Voter Taylor Miller prepares to cast his ballot during early voting at the King County Elections processing center on March 09, 2020 in Renton, Washington. Early primary voting continued in Washington State, with most of the ballots submitted by mail.
John Moore | Getty Images

Primary Election Day could have been a lot worse for officials in Washington state, epicenter of the U.S. coronavirus outbreak: The state votes entirely by mail.

Elsewhere, large events, such as elections, have been cause for alarm. Health officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have provided guidance for cleaning voting machines and other technology likely to be present at polling sites.

But in Washington, one of six states voting Tuesday, the concerns associated with the primary have been more muted.

"We didn't have to spin up thousands of polling places today and worry about people coming into contact with each other," Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman said in an interview. 

Among the precautions that are in place: Voters are being told not to seal their envelopes with a lick. 

"Whether healthy or sick, please don't lick," reads a graphic posted to Twitter by an account run by Wyman's office.

The state is recommending that voters use a wet cloth or sponge to seal their return envelopes, following guidance from the state health department. Voters have until 8 p.m. PT to get their ballot postmarked or dropped off at a voting center. 

In addition, most counties are requiring those who process ballots to wear gloves, Wyman said. 

Coronavirus primarily spreads person to person via respiratory droplets produced by coughs and sneezes, but it may be possible for it to be transferred through contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC. It is not known how long the virus could last on an object. 

Former Vice President Joe Biden is the favorite against Sen. Bernie Sanders in Washington state, according to recent state polls. The state will award 89 pledged delegates toward the 1,991 that either man will need to secure the nomination. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also competed for the Democratic nomination, running on a platform directed at fighting climate change, before dropping out in August. 

President Donald Trump is not facing any serious challenge for the Republican nomination and is the only option on the state's GOP ballots except for write-ins. 

Washington's vote-by-mail policy is a rare spot of good news for the state as it bears the brunt of the new contagion. Washington has suffered more recorded deaths from coronavirus than any other state, with 167 confirmed cases and 22 deaths as of Tuesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University data. 

At least 19 fatalities are related to a single retirement facility in the state, Life Care Center of Kirkland, according to county government statistics. The CDC has said that older adults and those with chronic health conditions are at higher risk. 

"We're fortunate in that there won't be any congregation in and around voting," Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told CNN over the weekend. "But we hope that, you know, we still maintain that enthusiasm for the public process and as many people vote as possible."

Based on early vote totals, it is looking as though enthusiasm is high.

The Seattle Times reported that as of Monday afternoon, nearly 1.6 million presidential primary ballots were turned in, raising the possibility of a new turnout record.

Of those, about 985,000 were for the Democratic primary and about 550,000 were for the Republican one.

Among the other states voting on "Big Tuesday," there is only one other confirmed case of coronavirus, in Missouri, according to Johns Hopkins. The other states voting are Michigan, Idaho, North Dakota and Mississippi, where there were no cases as of Tuesday morning. 

The most delegate-rich state to vote Tuesday is Michigan, where Sanders is counting on an upset victory to slow Biden's march to the nomination. Michigan will award 125 pledged delegates.