Which states are changing their primaries over coronavirus
Thirteen states and Puerto Rico have moved their presidential primaries so far, and more are considering it.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown America’s electoral system into shock, prompting officials in 13 states and Puerto Rico so far to move presidential primaries as the federal government urges people not to gather in large groups.
Pennsylvania on Friday became the latest state to move its primary. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, signed a bill moving the primary from April 28 to June 2.
Meanwhile, election officials around the nation are also gaming out the changes they can make to voting systems to allow Americans to participate in elections while keeping themselves safe and preventing the spread of the virus. Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has urged states not to postpone their primaries and instead embrace expanded voting by mail. But Perez has little authority over how individual states conduct their elections.
Twenty-three states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and other territories have yet to vote in the presidential contest, and we are tracking developments in every one as the calendar shifts and states puzzle through when — and how — people can vote. Here’s what has happened so far in all the states that were scheduled to vote from mid-March through the end of April.
Who has moved their presidential primaries
Alaska (moved from April 4 to April 10)
Alaska Democrats canceled in-person voting for their party-run primary on March 23, and pushed back the date by which mail ballots can be received.
The state party announced that ballots must be received no later than April 10. In addition, a downloadable ballot will be posted on the state party's website for those who have not received one by mail. The party intends on announcing results no later than 11:59 p.m. local time on April 11.
“The Alaska Democratic Party has already mailed ballots to over 71,000 registered Democrats across the state, seven times the number of people that participated in the 2016 caucuses. We want to continue to allow for maximum participation in this historic primary while respecting the health and safety of our voters and volunteers,” Lindsay Kavanaugh, the state party's executive director, said in a statement.
Connecticut (moved from April 28 to June 2)
Gov. Ned Lamont announced on March 19 that the state’s primary would be moved to June 2. “In coordination with other states and our Secretary of the State, and in an effort to carry out Democracy while keeping public health a top priority, I have decided to move our presidential primary to June 2nd,” Lamont tweeted.
Connecticut law only allows voters to cast ballots by mail with a valid excuse, but Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said avoiding coronavirus should be considered a valid excuse for absentee voting in the state. “Secretary Merrill has determined that for reasons of public health, absentee ballots that are requested to avoid public gatherings at polling places are requested because of illness, and should be validly issued,” a statement from her office on March 13 read. The statement said she is asking Lamont to issue an executive order allowing voters to request a ballot because of an "illness" during this emergency instead of "his or her illness."
Delaware (moved from April 28 to June 2)
Delaware postponed is presidential primary, which was originally scheduled for April 28, and any voter in the state will now be able to vote absentee. Voters in Delaware typically need an excuse to cast an absentee ballot.
“Delawareans have a basic, fundamental right to vote. Today’s order will preserve that right and allow Delawareans to vote by absentee ballot in the presidential primary on June 2,” said Gov. John Carney.
Georgia (moved from March 24 to May 19)
Georgia was one of the first states to postpone its primary, moving it to May 19.
“Events are moving rapidly and my highest priority is protecting the health of our poll workers, their families, and the community at large,” Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement on March 14.
The presidential primary in the state will now be held on the same day as primaries in the state for local, state and congressional offices. Raffensperger announced on March 24 that his office would mail absentee ballot request forms to every active Georgia voter.
Hawaii (moved from April 4 to late May)
Hawaii Democrats also canceled in-person voting for their state-run primary and will mail out more ballots that effectively delay results.
“While we regret the need to cancel the walk-in voting locations, health and safety comes first during this challenging time,” Democratic Party of Hawaii interim chair Kate Stanley said in a statement. “This third round of mail ballots will accommodate those who were planning to vote on election day by giving them the opportunity to vote by mail. However, we encourage everyone with a ballot now to mail it back as soon as possible in case there are further disruptions.”
The party said it would send another round of mailed ballot to voters who are both registered to vote with the state and enrolled in the state party by April 4, the original date planned for the primary.
A notice from the state party said it is "working with our vendor, the DNC, and our Party leadership to be able to provide additional updates on deadlines." Stanley told the Associated Press that the party won't have results until late May because it'll need to send out new ballots after April 4 and also wait for them to be returned and tabulated. Stanley confirmed the timeline to POLITICO, but warned in an email that "as events unfold the timeline may well change."
Indiana (moved from May 5 to June 2)
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that his state would postpone its May 5 primary until June 2.
"It needed to be pushed back in order to, again, ensure the safety of our county employees, our poll workers and the voters themselves," Holcomb said at a March 20 press conference.
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson also said she'd recommend to the state election commission that they suspend absentee balloting rules to allow all Indiana voters to vote absentee should they so choose, along with other recommendations that would make it easier for Hoosiers to vote. Indiana typically requires an excuse to vote via mail-in absentee ballots. Lawson said the recommendation would only apply to the June 2 elections.
Lawson said the election commission would meet March 25 to discuss the proposals.
Louisiana (moved from April 4 to June 20)
Louisiana also postponed its presidential primary, delaying its election until June 20. Notably, Louisiana's new date moves the primary outside of the nominating contest window set by the Democratic National Committee, meaning the state could have its number of delegates cut unless the DNC changes or waives its current rules.
"We will continue to work with every state party as they adjust their delegate selection plans around coronavirus,” a Democratic National Committee spokesperson said in a statement on March 13. “This change would violate our rule on timing which provides that all states hold their contests by June 9. Any violation of our rules could result in a penalty that would include a state losing at least half of its delegates. This change will be reviewed by the Rules and Bylaws Committee."
Kentucky (moved from May 19 to June 23)
Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams announced that he and Gov. Andy Beshear jointly agreed to delay the state's May primary until June 23.
"There could be more changes, but this was a first step to buy us time," Adams said in his announcement.
Maryland (moved from April 28 to June 2)
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan postponed the state’s primaries to June 2 in response to the coronavirus.
“It would endanger public health to allow thousands of people to assemble … and it would put Marylanders at risk,” Hogan said at a March 17 press conference. “I am directing the state board of elections to develop a comprehensive plan by April 3 to conduct the primary election in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process in our state.”
One election will still be held on April 28 in the state: The special election in Maryland’s 7th District to fill the seat of the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. That election will be mail-in only, and it could be an important test: Activists and some politicians are pushing for mail-in elections to be more widely adopted nationwide as part of the response to the coronavirus outbreak.
Ohio (moved from March 17 to April 28)
Ohio was supposed to hold its primary on March 17. But Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration backed a court case to delay the election for public health reasons the day prior, and after a judge ruled the primary should go on, DeWine and his public health director shut down polling places due to a “health emergency.”
Following the closure, Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive saying the primary was postponed until June 2 — but the state legislature said LaRose did not have the authority to set the primary date.
Ohio lawmakers have extended mail voting in the state’s primaries until April 28, though civil rights groups warn the plan could disenfranchise large groups. The Ohio state legislature passed the primary changes as part of an overarching coronavirus response bill, and DeWine indicated he will sign it on March 25.
The new law instructs LaRose’s office to send a postcard to every registered voter in the state to notify them of “the methods by which the elector may obtain an application for absent voter's ballots,” along with relevant deadlines. But the statute does not actually mail every voter an absentee ballot request, something LaRose said he wishes he could do but does not have the authority to do so.
Civil rights groups worry that the short turnaround will leave many voters out of the process. LaRose said he disapproved of the plan passed by lawmakers but would work to fulfill it.
LaRose's office also announced that 523,522 early votes have already been cast, across all parties, during the initial early-voting period.
Pennsylvania (Moved from April 28 to June 2)
Gov. Tom Wolf and the state legislature jointly agreed to move Pennsylvania primary to June 2, with Wolf signing the change into law on March 27.
“Delaying this year’s primary election as several other states have done is in the best interests of voters, poll workers and county election officials,” Wolf said in a statement. “I commend the General Assembly for acting quickly on this critical legislation. The Department of State will continue to work with local election officials to ensure Pennsylvania has a fair and accessible election.”
The move also reschedules the state's congressional primaries until June 2.
The new law also makes other changes to the electoral process. It allows counties to start tabulating mail in ballots earlier on Election Day. It'll also also counties to temporarily consolidate polling places in response to the crisis.
Puerto Rico (Moved from March 29 to April 26)
The U.S. territory postponed its primary after Gov. Wanda Vazquez signed a resolution on March 21.
The resolution postpones the primary to April 26, and further authorizes the chair of the Puerto Rico Democratic Party and the president of the island's commission on elections to further postpone the election, "if the emergency situation persists by April 26," according to a statement from the island's party.
"Without a doubt, this is the time for preventative measures to stop the spread of the virus. But even in this crisis, both the Legislature and the Governor highlighted the democratic freedoms and rights that allow us to be a society based on the value of voting, as an expression of the will of the majority of our people," Charles Rodríguez, the chair of the Puerto Rico Democratic Party, said in a statement.
Rhode Island (Moved from April 28 to June 2)
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that the state's primary will be postponed. "Last week, the Board of Elections requested that the presidential primary election be postponed from April 28 to June 2 and that the election take place primarily by mail ballot. I am following the advice of the Board of Elections, and will sign an executive order to do this," she wrote in a statement.
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea also announced that her office would mail all registered voters "a mail ballot application with a postage-paid return envelope."
Wyoming (Moved from April 4 to April 17)
The Wyoming Democratic Party canceled the in-person portion of their caucuses in response to coronavirus.
“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 party later announced that it would accept ballots until April 17 and that "caucus results will be released as soon as possible."
And just two states are continuing on as scheduled ... for now
New York (April 28)
Discussions about moving New York’s primary have begun, but there is nothing definitive yet. Douglas A. Kellner, co-chair of the New York State Board of Elections, told The New York Times on March 15 that the presidential primary could move to June 23 (the date of other primaries in the state), but that decision would have to be made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature.
But Cuomo said he has not given any thought to the idea yet. “I have virtually no political thoughts at this time and no thought about postponing an election,” he said at a March 17 press conference.
However, Cuomo has already delayed all village elections in New York until April 28. “Public health officials have been clear that reducing density is one of the most effective ways to stop the spread, and delaying village elections will help ensure poll workers and voters are not potentially exposed to the virus and at the same time maintain integrity in our election system,” he said in a statement on March 16.
Election officials are pressuring Cuomo to move the primary, asking for the state’s April 28 primary to be pushed back to June 23, the same day as congressional and state primaries. “We are facing critical shortages of inspectors and polling places due to the ongoing public health crisis,” the NYS Election Commissioners Association wrote in a release on March 24.
Wisconsin (April 7)
Wisconsin is in a tougher situation than other states: Not only is the presidential primary scheduled for April 7, but so are general elections for state and local offices, including state Supreme Court and mayor of Milwaukee.
Gov. Tony Evers has beaten back calls to postpone the election. "How long do we potentially leave offices unfilled because we’re into July or August and we haven’t held a general election?" he asked reporters on a conference call on March 17, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Evers has urged voters to vote absentee.
Meanwhile, the Wisconsin Democratic Party and the DNC have filed a lawsuit to expand voting access. The suit seeks to extend electronic and mail registration to April 3, axe photo ID and residency document requirements for absentee ballot and registration requests, and extend the mail-in deadline to count votes postmarked by Election Day and received within 10 days of the election.
Mark Jefferson, the chair of the state GOP, put out a statement: “The best course of action during elections in times of crisis is to ensure equal access to the polls, not to suspend all common-sense regulations that ensure fair elections in a democracy,” he said. “We call on local election officials to make early-voting available immediately and we are exploring what legal options may be available. Suspending rules that ensure fair elections is simply not an acceptable solution.”
Alice Miranda Ollstein and Elena Schneider contributed reporting.