A man casts his vote during the Florida primary election in Miami, Florida, on March 17, 2020.
Eva Marie uzcategui | AFP | Getty Images
As the coronavirus spreads rapidly across the U.S., measures to contain the deadly pathogen are playing unprecedented havoc with the 2020 election and disrupting the process of selecting the Democratic nominee.
Several states and territories have postponed their 2020 presidential primaries in response to the coronavirus outbreak that has roiled markets and prompted several governors to impose statewide lockdowns.
The delays are among the hardships faced by former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders as they compete amid an uncertain political landscape for the chance to take on President Donald Trump in November.
Both candidates, the last Democratic contenders in a race that at one point saw more than two dozen, have stopped holding in-person events, instead opting to reach voters digitally.
The most recent Democratic debate between the two men, held on March 15, was moved to Washington from Las Vegas and was conducted without a live audience.
Biden, with a commanding lead in pledged delegates, appears poised to win the contest. Sanders has yet to drop out of the race, though he has said he is considering his options.
To get ahead of the outbreak, state and local officials are taking drastic steps, in some cases shutting most retail and asking residents to stay home. “Social distancing” has become the norm, as people are asked to keep at least six feet apart to decrease the risk of transmitting the virus.
The fear that in-person voting could spread the virus has prompted state officials and election commissioners to consider alternatives for conducting their presidential primaries.
Here are the states that have so far postponed their primary election dates:
Though not a U.S. state, Puerto Rico has voting power in the presidential primary. The territory has decided to postpone its Democratic presidential primary from March 29 to April 26.
Gov. Wanda Vazquez Garced signed a bill into law on March 22 to postpone the primary.
Puerto Rico has 51 delegates.
The state was supposed to hold its primary election on March 24 but has postponed it to May 19, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Democratic Committee told CNBC.
The decision came shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp said he was declaring a public health state of emergency in response to the growing number of coronavirus cases in the state.
Georgia has 105 delegates.
Connecticut will move its 2020 primary to June 2 from the originally planned April 28, Gov. Ned Lamont announced.
“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 has 60 delegates.
The state has postponed its primary to June 2, Gov. John Carney announced. It was originally planned for April 28.
“We moved Delaware’s presidential primary to June 2, 2020,” Carney tweeted. “Delawareans have a basic, fundamental right to vote. Today’s order will preserve that right.”
Delaware has 21 delegates.
Indiana will have its 2020 primary on June 2, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced. It was originally planned for May 5.
“My view on that fast-approaching primary election is it needed to be pushed back in order to again ensure the safety of our county employees, the poll workers, and the voters themselves,” Holcomb said in a briefing.
The state has 82 delegates.
The state is postponing its primary to June 2, Gov. Larry Hogan announced. The original date was April 28.
“I have two main priorities: keeping Marylanders safe and protecting their constitutional right to vote,” Hogan said at a press conference announcing the postponement. Hogan said he didn’t want to “put Marylanders at risk, especially the poll workers and the election judges, most of whom are retirees and in the most vulnerable population.”
Maryland has 96 delegates.
Officials in Ohio are looking at June 2 as a new date for the presidential primary.
Gov. Mike DeWine was originally blocked by the courts from postponing the primary on March 17, the original date. But right before the primary, the state’s health department intervened, issuing an order at the last minute to close the polls due to health concerns brought on by the outbreak.
The decision to reschedule the primary is now pending approval from the courts.
Ohio has 136 delegates.
Rhode Island moved its 2020 primary to June 2 from the originally planned April 28, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced.
The Rhode Island Board of Elections voted to postpone the state’s primary from April 28 to June 2, the board’s deputy director of elections, Miguel Nunez, told CNBC. But the decision had been “pending the governor signing an emergency order,” Nunez said.
“I am following the advice of the Board of Elections, and will sign an executive order to do this,” Raimondo said in a tweet.
Rhode Island has 26 delegates.
Louisiana was the first state to postpone its presidential primary, rescheduling it to June 20 from the originally planned April 4.
“We want to protect the health and safety of all Louisianans by doing our part to prevent the spread of this highly infectious disease,” Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin told reporters.
The state has 54 delegates.
The state will move its nominating contest to June 23 from the originally planned May 19, Secretary of State Michael Adams announced. He said he made the decision with Gov. Andy Beshear during what he called “unprecedented times.”
“My hope is that this delay will allow us to have a normal election,” Adams said in a video posted to Twitter.
Kentucky has 54 delegates.
Other state actions
Other states have adjusted their election schedules as the coronavirus pandemic rages across the country, paralyzing normal activity.
Wyoming has canceled the in-person portion of its Democratic caucus, which is scheduled for April 4, encouraging mail-in votes instead and also urging voters to pick up and drop off individual ballots.
Alaska, whose primary is scheduled for the same date, also canceled the in-person voting portion, replacing it with “a more extensive vote-by-mail process,” the Alaska Democratic Party Executive Committee said in a release.
West Virginia will most likely not postpone its primary on May 12, Mike Queen, deputy chief of staff and communications director for the secretary of state’s office, said to CNBC. The state is urging its 1.2 million voters to fill out absentee ballots, but has taken precautions for anyone planning to vote in person.
“We are maintaining the space requirements that the CDC has recommended,” Queen said. “And we are only allowing so many people in the polling locations at any time. We have looked into the purchase of wipes and screen wipes to sanitize [the polling spaces and locations]. We have the luxury of a month to pull this plan together. We’re a little bit more fortunate than the other states.”
Nebraska is also “unlikely” to postpone its May 12 primary, Cindi Allen, assistant secretary of state, told CNBC.
There are still 11 more Democratic primary dates, with 26 states and territories gearing up to cast ballots. Delegate-rich states New York, with 274 delegates, and Pennsylvania, with 186, are both set to hold primaries on April 28.
Despite these disruptions, the Democratic National Committee has indicated that it plans to move forward with its convention set for July 13-16.
“As we navigate the unprecedented challenge of responding to the coronavirus, we’re exploring a range of contingency options to ensure we can deliver a successful convention without unnecessary risk to public health,” said Katie Peters, communications director for the Democratic National Convention Committee. “This is a very fluid situation — and the convention is still more than three months away. We are committed to sharing updates with the public in the coming weeks and months as our plans continue to take shape.”
The coronavirus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, has spread to dozens of countries, with more than 387,382 confirmed cases worldwide and at least 16,767 deaths so far, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There are at least 46,450 cases in the United States and at least 595 deaths, according to the latest tallies. e