The ongoing spread of COVID-19 throughout the United States prompted several states, including Ohio, Georgia and Louisiana, to postpone their primaries for the 2020 presidential election. Other states have chosen to maintain their original primary dates despite President Trump calling for people to avoid groups of 10 or more people for the next 15 days (USA Today, “Coronavirus live updates: Restrictions could last months; Canada closes border; McDonald’s closing seating areas,” 03.16.2020).
Four states, Ohio, Florida, Arizona and Illinois, were scheduled to hold their primary elections today. Just this morning, Ohio delayed its election, which is now tentatively scheduled to take place June 2. Ohio Governor Mike Dewine explained how this was their effort to protect the health of those who want to vote. “We should not force people to make this choice, a choice between their health and their constitutional rights and their duties as American citizens,” he said (New York Times, “2020 Primary Election: Coronavirus Postponements and Cancellations,” 03.16.2020).
The three states holding elections today cited the use of mailed ballots as a safe way for citizens to cast their vote. In Florida, more than two million people have already voted via mailed ballots and early in-person voting. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis defended the decision to not postpone Florida’s election, explaining that previous elections took place during difficult circumstances. “We’re definitely voting. They voted during the Civil War. We’re gonna vote,” he said (MSN, “Next Week’s Democratic Primaries to proceed despite coronavirus, Louisiana delay,” 03.14.2020; New York Times, “2020 Primary Election: Coronavirus Postponements and Cancellations,” 03.16.2020). In an attempt to protect the eldery population, states have rearranged voting locations so that no voting takes place at nursing homes (New York Times, “On Politics,” 03.16.2020).
Election officials from Florida, Ohio, Arizona and Illinois explained that with proper precautionary measures, the primaries will occur without endangering people’s health. “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,” officials said (MSN, “Next Week’s Democratic Primaries to Proceed Despite Coronavirus, Louisiana Delay,” 03.14.2020).
Although these primaries are set to continue as planned, several states have already postponed their primary elections. This includes Georgia’s primary, which was originally set to occur on March 24 and has now been moved to May 19. Puerto Rico is attempting to postpone its March 29 primary to April 26. Louisiana has postponed its primary to June 20. Other states, such as Alaska, Wisconsin and Hawaii, are still planning to hold the primaries on the originally scheduled dates, but are encouraging voters to vote via absentee ballots or mailed ballots (New York Times, “2020 Primary Election: Coronavirus Postponements and Cancellations,” 03.16.2020).
These changes do not come without their complications. Louisiana moving its primary to June 20 violates a rule of the Democratic National Convention, which asserts that states must have their primary elections completed by June 9. States whose primaries take place later risk losing half of their delegates as a consequence. In response to Louisiana’s decision, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee said, “We will continue to work with every state party as they adjust their delegate selection plans around coronavirus. This change would violate our rule on timing which provides that all states hold their contests by June 9th … This change will be reviewed by the Rules and Bylaws Committee” (Politico, “Louisiana postpones primary as states scramble to adjust to coronavirus,” 03.13.2020).