Louisiana will postpone its presidential primaries, scheduled for early next month, until June because of the coronavirus outbreak, state officials said Friday.
Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said at a press conference that the decision was made in accordance with the state's election code. "Today I have certified that a state of emergency exists and requested that the governor issue an executive order postponing the elections this spring," he said. "We have requested postponing the April 4 primary to June 20."
Ardoin said the governor agreed with the decision. A spokesperson for Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards told the Advocate that the move was an “extraordinary measure but one we feel is prudent."
The decision was the first by a state government to delay a scheduled presidential primary. But it was not the last. On Saturday state officials in Georgia announced that the March 24 primary was officially moved to May 19, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
“At the end of the day, the average poll worker is 70 or 72 years old,” Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs previously told BuzzFeed News. “We have a duty to protect their health.”
The Alaska Democratic Party told BuzzFeed News it had no plans to suspend in-person voting yet, also scheduled for April 4, but that it is encouraging voters to vote by mail.
"We are paying close attention for guidance from local health authorities, and urge people — especially those in high-risk groups — to consider any and all exposure to public places and continue taking proper precautions," Jeanne Devon, the Alaska Democratic Party's communications director, said in an email. "We will continue to assess our plans on a daily basis."
Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, the two remaining top Democratic presidential candidates, are coming out of a stretch of primaries in the last two weeks that have seen Biden begin to build a large and potentially insurmountable delegate lead. The primaries scheduled for this coming Tuesday in Ohio, Florida, Illinois, and Arizona could virtually close the path for a Sanders comeback.
BuzzFeed News has reached out to local officials in the states with primaries scheduled between now and April 4 to determine if those states plan to continue their plans.
Ohio officials said a delay of the state’s Tuesday primary is unlikely. Early balloting has been underway since last month. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that county elections boards in the state are rushing to line up additional poll workers before the vote. Officials in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois also told BuzzFeed News their states’ voting on Tuesday will continue as planned.
Top elections administrators from those four states later issued a joint news release stating they "are working closely with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe."
"Unlike concerts, sporting events or other mass gatherings where large groups of people travel long distances to congregate in a confined space for an extended period of time, polling locations see people from a nearby community coming into and out of the building for a short duration," the release — issued by Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, and Illinois Elections Board Chair Charles Scholz — stated.
"Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past, and based on the best information we have from public health officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and securely cast their ballots in this election, and that otherwise healthy poll workers can and should carry out their patriotic duties on Tuesday."
Delaware State Election Commissioner Anthony Albence said he is still planning to go through with his state’s scheduled April 28 primary. He said poll workers are being trained to wipe down the voting machines with disinfectant after each vote is cast.
In-person voting as part of the Wyoming caucuses, scheduled for April 4, will also be suspended, the state party there said in a release on their website. The decision was made Thursday night, Nina Hebert, a spokesperson for the Wyoming Democratic Party, told BuzzFeed News.
“Our priority is ensuring that people are healthy and safe. Holding public events right now would put that in jeopardy, so this is the responsible course of action,” the statement from the Wyoming Democratic Party said.
The party is encouraging people to vote by mail, and voters are able to pick up ballots beginning March 28 and drop them off April 4. Hebert said in an email that they are consulting with public health officials to “ensure the safety of voters on ballot drop off days.”
Biden and Sanders have both radically scaled back their campaigns in the last day to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Both campaigns announced they would ask staff to work from home, limiting the large public events and person-to-person interaction that is core to traditional campaigning.
Instead, both Biden and Sanders have spoken at length about the virus in televised remarks; each one is making a case for their platform and candidacy based on how they would handle the outbreak as president and contrasting their proposals with the actions of the Trump administration.
"Voting is at the very heart of who we are as a democracy,” Biden campaign spokesperson Kate Bedingfield said in a statement Friday. “As election officials working with public health officials are demonstrating throughout the country, our elections can be conducted safely in consultation with public health officials. If voters are feeling healthy, not exhibiting symptoms, and don’t believe they've been exposed to COVID-19, please vote on Tuesday. If voters are members of an at-risk population, exhibiting symptoms, or have been exposed to a diagnosed case of COVID-19, we encourage them to explore absentee ballots and vote by mail options."
This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Georgia will now hold its primary on May 19.