By Amanda Zoch
Louisiana last week became the first state to postpone its presidential primary in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin announced the Pelican State’s primary, scheduled for April 4, has been rescheduled for June 20.
At the time of publication, only two states have rescheduled elections, though others are considering it. Georgia is the second state to do so, postponing its March 24 presidential primary until May 19.
The highly infectious coronavirus has given rise to myriad public health concerns, and Election Day activities—which often include congregating at public polling places, standing in close proximity to others and handling communal voting machines—have received increased scrutiny during this national emergency.
Practical considerations such as regularly washing one’s hands, using a sponge—not your tongue—to seal the envelopes for mail-in ballots and voting by mail can help keep elections safe for voters, poll workers and election officials.
To limit the potential for community transmission, many states are encouraging their voters to request absentee ballots. Thirty-three states have no-excuse absentee voting, and for other states, fears of infection may qualify as an excuse.
Louisiana and Georgia’s delayed primaries illustrate another way election officials can respond to public health concerns while maintaining fair, effective elections. Ten states—including Louisiana—have statutes allowing elections to be rescheduled in response to an emergency.
States can also use executive action to delay elections in the time of an emergency. Another option is to relocate polling places—one county in Florida, for example, is moving its polling places away from senior living facilities to better protect vulnerable populations.
State parties can also change their nominating procedures to accommodate concerns about viral transmission. In one example, the Wyoming Democratic party canceled the in-person portion of its caucus. The state’s Democratic voters will still be able to assign delegates to presidential candidates, but now they will do so exclusively through mail-in ballots.
And these electoral adjustments are not limited to the U.S.: Across the pond, the U.K. delayed local and mayoral elections until 2021.
As the coronavirus outbreak continues to unfold, we anticipate more state legislative and executive action on elections. Visit our COVID-19 and Elections resource for the most up-to-date information.
Amanda Zoch is an NCSL legislative policy specialist and Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow.