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Virus worries lead Louisiana to postpone April primary; voting still on in four states Tuesday

Louisiana official: Supplies to sanitize polling sites unavailable

Unable to get supplies to sanitize polling places, Louisiana became the first state Friday to postpone an election amid concerns about the new coronavirus.

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin told reporters Friday the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries would be postponed from April 4 until June 20.

“We’re having a difficult time procuring enough of the necessary supplies to make sure that everything can be cleaned — hand sanitizer and gloves and masks,” Tyler Brey, a spokesman for Ardoin, said in a phone interview. “There’s just a shortage of it.”

Six other states are due to hold elections in March, and officials in four due to vote on Tuesday issued a joint statement saying they would go ahead.

“We are working closely with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe,” said the statement from Arizona Secretary of State Kathy Hobbs, Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Illinois State Board of Elections Chairman Charles Scholz and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

The officials noted that unlike other large gatherings, elections feature people going in and out of polling places within short periods of time. They noted that they are issuing guidance to workers at every polling place about sanitizing machines and washing hands. Officials had previously said they were taking other steps, including moving polling sites away from places such as nursing homes where a vulnerable population could be endangered by the virus.

“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 four officials said in the joint statement.

Georgia is scheduled to hold its presidential primaries March 24, and Alabama has runoff elections on March 31. Four U.S. territories — Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and Puerto Rico — are also scheduled to hold caucuses or primaries this month.

On Thursday, the Wyoming Democratic Party announced it would cancel the in-person portion of its April 4 presidential caucus, as well as county conventions. Party Chairman Joe Barbuto encouraged Democrats to vote by mail and noted voters can pick up and drop off ballots at various locations on March 28 and April 4. Alaska and Hawaii also have Democratic presidential primaries on April 4.

Absentee not an option

Brey, the spokesman in Louisiana, said there had been discussions about other proposals such as voting by mail, but implementing them on a wide scale would be problematic. Unlike other states that let voters get absentee ballots without giving a reason, Louisiana law requires voters to have a specific reason.

“Because Louisiana isn’t a ‘no excuse’ vote by mail state, securing enough printed ballots and envelopes, and doing it on such a wide scale is not something we would be able to do on short notice, even with a delay,” Brey said.

Asked if there is anything the federal government can do to help, Brey said, “We need information first. Good lines of communication about what’s happening out there. We certainly would be happy to be receiving hand sanitizer and gloves and masks — the things the CDC is recommending to keep election officials as safe as possible.”

Brey said in order to postpone the election, the secretary of state first had to request the governor issue an executive order due to an emergency. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign that executive order later on Friday.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s deputy campaign manager and spokeswoman, Kate Bedingfield, responded to the Louisiana delay by saying elections could “be conducted safely in consultation with public health officials.”

Bedingfield encouraged voters who are “feeling healthy, not exhibiting symptoms, and don’t believe they’ve been exposed to COVID-19” to vote on Tuesday.

“If voters are members of an at-risk population, exhibiting symptoms, or have been exposed to a diagnosed case of COVID-19, we encourage them to explore absentee ballots and vote by mail options,” Bedingfield said.

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