Louisiana becomes first state to postpone election due to coronavirus

Wyoming canceled its in-person caucuses that were set for April 4.
Image: Ronique Slack exits a polling booth after casting her vote on Election Day at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans
Ronique Slack exits a polling booth after casting her vote on Election Day at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Charter School in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans on Nov. 8, 2016.Gerald Herbert / AP file

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By Alex Seitz-Wald

WASHINGTON — Louisiana became the first state Friday to postpone an election due to the coronavirus outbreak, saying it will push back its April 4 primary in which Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders will be facing off until June 20, while Wyoming Democrats suspended their in-person caucuses.

The actions comes as election officials across the country are taking steps to mitigate voters' exposure to to the virus in upcoming votes in the Democratic presidential primary and local races.

"The two-month delay of this election will continue to allow our office to procure necessary supplies to put our state in best possible posture for the time when this election is conducted," Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said at a press conference Friday, adding that municipal general elections, previously scheduled for May 9, will now take place on July 25.

Ardoin said the decision was made especially with local election commissioners in mind. Over half of them are 65 or older, he said, a population that is at heightened risk for the disease.

Nationally, volunteers who help run polling places are often older retirees.

Ardoin said Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was "relieved" by the decision that leaders in the state legislature supported the move as well.

Meanwhile, in Wyoming, which holds party-run caucuses instead of state-run primaries, Democrats will still be able to vote by mail in the presidential nominating contest, but their in-person caucuses scheduled for April 4 have been suspended. "(A)s of now, voters may still vote via ballot pickup and drop off on March 28 and April 4," the Wyoming Democratic Party said in a statement.

Ohio, Arizona, Florida and Illinois are currently scheduled to hold primaries on Tuesday, but are taking precautions such as moving polling locations out of retirement homes and nursing facilities, to minimize exposure to elderly residents.

"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 officials in charge of elections of all four states said in a joint statement.

"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," the joint statement added.

And election officials, who typically promote voting, are making an unusual request to voters: If you don't feel well, stay home and away from the polls. Instead, they're encouraging residents to vote by mail or early, when available.

"We also want to remind voters to make a plan for participating in this election," Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs said in a statement. "There are still several other early voting options available for those who want to avoid potential crowds on election day."

Florida's Division of Elections has sent guidance to local election commissioners, such as information from manufacturers on best practices for clean touch-screen voting machines, and said it is working to ensure hand sanitizer will be available at every polling location.