Rhode Islanders headed to the polls Tuesday in the largest slate of presidential primaries in almost three months, handing former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump victories in their respective elections.
Nationwide unrest touched off by George Floyd's death in Minnesota was on Rhode Island voters' minds as they cast ballots.
Orla Power, a 28-year-old Providence paralegal, said she was motivated to vote by the death of Floyd — a black man who died in handcuffs as a white Minneapolis officer used a knee to pin the man’s neck to the ground even after he had stopped breathing — and the violent national reckoning that has followed.
“One way that I could say something, stand up in some way … was to vote who is in office right now out of office and put someone with humanity in. So that’s what I did,” Power said.
Nicholas Autiello, who works in finance, said his vote Tuesday for Biden was also a vote against Trump.
“The nomination is already a foregone conclusion, so a lot of people feel like it might not be important to vote in this primary today. But it’s always important to vote,” Autiello said after voting at the casino at Roger Williams Park in Providence.
The Ocean State was one of seven states, as well as the District of Columbia, that pushed through a pandemic and exploding racial tensions to hold primaries. Four states were originally scheduled to vote in April but delayed their contests because of the coronavirus outbreak.
The coronavirus death toll has surged past 100,000 nationwide, and thousands of new cases are reported each day. The death toll reached 732 in Rhode Island Tuesday, with 12 new fatalities reported by the Department of Health. An additional 101 positive cases Tuesday brought the total to 15,112.
At the same time, several major cities, including Providence and others holding elections Tuesday, were grappling with protests following the killing of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes.
Just 47 polling locations were open on Tuesday for an estimated 39,100 voters in Rhode Island, according to NBC affiliate WJAR, as residents were encouraged to vote by mail due to the pandemic.
COVID-19 voting guidelines in RI
Preventative measures to ensure safety amid the coronavirus crisis were implemented Tuesday in accordance with the Rhode Island Board of Elections COVID-19 response plan:
- All poll workers must wear masks and gloves
- Voters are encouraged to wear face coverings, but will not be turned away if they are not wearing one
- Plexiglas "sneezeguards" are suggested for check-in tables
- Voting booths will be six feet apart and sanitized at least once per hour
- Votes will be cast with disposable stylus pens
- Line control workers will remind voters to maintain distance
- A designated worker will sanitize contact surfaces
- An outdoor worker will control the number of people coming in and out
Mail-in voting applications were due by May 19. Residents were asked to fill out the ballots and return them immediately to ensure that they were counted.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.