Louisiana Primary Delayed Two Months Amid Outbreak

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, right, squirts hand sanitizer into Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ palm as the pair talk about the coronavirus at a press conference Thursday in Baton Rouge. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP)

BATON ROUGE, La. (CN) – Louisiana’s presidential primary election has been postponed by two months, an unprecedented step in the state’s effort to control the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The election that had been slated for April 4 has been rescheduled for June 20 “out of an absolute abundance of caution for Louisiana’s voters, voting officials and the general public as a whole,” Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said Friday during a news conference alongside members of Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards’ administration.

Edwards and Ardoin said they are acting under a provision of state law that allows elections to be moved during emergencies.

Over half of the state’s election day commissioners are 65 or older, and 32 polling locations are in nursing homes or other senior facilities, Ardoin said.

The secretary of state said at this point it would be “pretty impossible” to extend mail-in voting for every voter in time for the election.

Louisiana also moved elections in 2005 and 2008 because of hurricanes, Ardoin said. He added he is not aware of any other states that have postponed their upcoming elections amid the outbreak of the coronavirus known as COVID-19.

Ardoin made the recommendation to Edwards earlier this week and the governor’s administration confirmed the postponement Friday.

As of Friday morning, 94 people in Louisiana have been tested for coronavirus and 33 came back positive, mostly in the New Orleans area, according to state officials. Edwards has declared a public health emergency in Louisiana.

Christina Stephens, a spokeswoman for the governor, said moving the primary election is an “extraordinary measure but one we feel is prudent.”

Stephens added that early April, the original time for the election, “could potentially be the height” of coronavirus infections in the state.

“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 that way,” Stephens said.

State law allows for the “emergency suspension or delays and rescheduling” of elections when they coincide with an emergency or disaster. Under that law, postponement of the election must be accompanied by “certification of the secretary of state that a state of emergency exists.”

The Louisiana contest is a closed primary election, where only members of the Democratic Party can vote for the party’s presidential nominee.

Major sporting and theatrical events as well as other large public gatherings nationwide have already been canceled due to COVID-19. Earlier Friday, numerous states closed schools as the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. surpassed 1,700 in 48 states. There have been 40 deaths nationwide so far.

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