Louisiana’s presidential primary election date has been changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Originally scheduled for April 4, it is postponed until June 20. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, made the announcement on Friday.
Louisiana becomes the first state to use a provision in state law that allows moving an election in an emergency situation to delay the primary. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing life as we know it whether we like it or not. In the case of the Louisiana primary election, the change was made for a very basic reason – over half of the state’s election-day commissioners are 65 or older. 32 polling locations are in nursing homes or other senior facilities. We know that people over the age of 60 are in the most vulnerable category.
Ardoin said it is impossible to expand mail-in voting to every voter at this late date and noted that the state moved election dates in 2005 and 2008 due to hurricanes. Ardoin made the recommendation to Governor Edwards and the governor granted the delay Friday.
Christina Stephens, an Edwards spokeswoman, said it’s an “extraordinary measure but one we feel is prudent.”
“We’re one of the few states that is supposed to have an election in early April, which we think could potentially be the height of some of this in Louisiana,” Stephens said. “Our poll workers are by large elderly, over the age of 70 and we think it is unsafe for them to be monitoring the election. We don’t think we would have enough poll workers…and we think we should be discouraging people from congregating in that way.”
The state law says the governor, through an executive order declaring a state of emergency, can suspend or delay elections “only upon the certification of the secretary of state that a state of emergency exists.”
Other states may have to make the same decision as we move further into the primary season, depending on the coronavirus. We have no way of knowing how long the virus will remain a consideration, only scientific guesses based on past pandemics. What we do know at this point is that younger people without compromised immune systems are the most resilient to COVID-19. Exposure to large groups of voters to the most susceptible – the elderly poll workers – is not an acceptable option.
Four states are set to vote on Tuesday and they are moving forward without any changes. Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio plan to leave their primary voting day in place. A joint statement was released from officials in each of those states.
“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,” a joint statement from Arizona Secretary of State Kathy Hobbs, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Illinois Elections Board Chairman Charles Scholz and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose read.
The Wyoming Democratic Party is making adjustments, too. Its caucus will be held on April 4 but the in-person portion of the vote has been canceled.
“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 state party wrote in a statement. “Voters are highly encouraged to vote by mail; as of now, voters may still vote via ballot pickup and drop off on March 28 and April 4. We will continue to work with public health officials, and assess local conditions, to ensure voters’ health and safety.”
The Democrat presidential campaigns, especially the Biden campaign must be panicking about the uncertainty of voter turnout. Biden is relying on older Democrats voting for him and the Sanders campaign will have an advantage if they stay home out of fear of being exposed to the virus in crowds at polling places. COVID-19 will likely have an effect on how the rest of the presidential primary season plays out.
The CDC is encouraging election officials to offer mail-in voting and early voting as a way of reducing crowds at polling places on election day.
The Centers for Disease Control recently issued guidance targeted to election officials that urges states and counties to encourage mail-in voting and early voting as much as possible, in an effort to “minimize direct contact with other people and reduce crowd size at polling stations.” The CDC also urged poll workers to routinely clean and disinfect polling stations, “limit nonessential visitors” and encourage as much social distancing as possible.
The Sanders campaign isn’t thrilled that big campaign rallies are being postponed but is relying on public health officials to offer guidance. Sanders said that “rescheduling elections is not something we do lightly or should do lightly.” He said his campaign’s decision to cancel in-person events is “hurting us.” That is easy to understand since Sanders is able to get large crowds to attend his rallies. That enthusiasm hasn’t always paid off in votes though, at least during the primary elections to date.