The coronavirus pandemic continues to grind everyday life to a halt — and in many states, that means postponing elections. A total of 12 states and Puerto Rico have now pushed back their presidential primaries, leaving a gaping hole in the primary calendar and leaving some states with precious little time to prepare for the Democratic National Convention. Since our last update, five more in-person presidential primaries have been rescheduled due to COVID-19:
- Last Thursday, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, with the support of local election officials and the secretary of state, moved Connecticut’s presidential primary from April 28 to June 2. Connecticut law allows the governor to modify and suspend statutes during public-health emergencies.
- Last Friday, Indiana delayed its primaries for both president and down-ballot offices from May 5 to June 2. Gov. Eric Holcomb did so by executive order but made the announcement jointly with the secretary of state and leaders of the state Democratic and Republican parties. On Wednesday, the Indiana Election Commission also decreed that absentee voting be an option for all voters (under normal circumstances, Indiana requires an excuse to request an absentee ballot).
- Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced signed a bill moving the primary from March 29 to April 26, with the option for the presidents of the Puerto Rico Democratic Party and State Elections Commission to postpone it further if the coronavirus crisis has not ended by then.
- On Monday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, at the request of the state Board of Elections, signed an executive order moving the presidential primary from April 28 to June 2. She also directed the board to devise a plan to conduct “a predominantly mail ballot primary.”
- Finally, Delaware joined the exodus by moving its presidential primary from April 28 to June 2. As recently as last week, election officials were saying they had no plans to reschedule, but Gov. John Carney issued an executive order to postpone (and designate COVID-19 as a valid excuse to cast an absentee ballot) on Tuesday.
Given former Vice President Joe Biden’s extremely strong position, these changes may not affect who wins the Democratic nomination for president. But that’s not the case for every election that’s being delayed. Many still-competitive primaries are also being postponed down ballot, which means there’s more uncertainty around the outcome and less time for general-election campaigning. For example, primary runoff elections in Alabama and Texas have both been moved to July 14 (previously, Alabama’s were scheduled for March 31, and Texas’s for May 26); among others, Democratic Sen. Doug Jones and Republican Sen. John Cornyn must now wait months before knowing the identities of their November opponents as a result. Congressional primary runoffs were also delayed to June 23 in North Carolina (from May 12) and Mississippi (from March 31).
Other states have responded to the coronavirus pandemic by leaning more heavily into voting by mail. For example, rather than reschedule the May 12 special election in California’s 25th Congressional District, the state will mail a ballot to every voter instead. And Nevada has now announced plans to conduct its June 9 down-ballot primary predominantly by mail. Most drastically, three upcoming party-run presidential primaries where mail voting was already the default option will now be 100 percent vote-by-mail. Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming will no longer offer any in-person voting on April 4, which — in order to ensure everyone still has the opportunity to vote — has effectively delayed those primaries as well:
- In order to accommodate those who had planned on voting in person on April 4, Alaska has extended the deadline to vote by mail from a postmark date of March 24 to a receipt date of April 10. All Alaska Democrats had already been mailed a ballot, but now they can download one from the state party’s website as well.
- In lieu of opening 21 in-person voting centers, Hawaii will send another wave of mail ballots to anyone who registers with the party by April 4. The state party has not yet announced a new deadline for ballots to be mailed back; however, it is now saying that results will not be available until late May, indicating that the primary will be significantly delayed.
- Wyoming had already canceled the in-person caucus component of its vote-by-mail/caucus hybrid presidential contest, but over the weekend it also removed the option for people to vote in person. People who registered too late to receive a ballot in the mail the first time around will now be mailed a ballot, and voters can request replacement ballots (e.g., if they threw it out in anticipation of voting in person) until March 31. Previously, ballots had to be postmarked by March 20 or dropped off by April 4 in order to count, but the party will now accept ballots that arrive as late as April 17.
It was relatively simple for the three states above to embrace mail voting, since they were already planning to conduct these elections mostly by mail anyway.1 But other states lack the money and infrastructure to process millions of mail ballots; Maryland, for example, postponed its primary over a week ago in part because it determined it was infeasible to hold an all-mail primary on the original date of April 28. Still, as mentioned above, some states that aren’t accustomed to heavy mail voting (e.g., Rhode Island) nevertheless are making an effort to expand its use, given enough time to prepare.
More election changes are almost certainly coming down the pike. For example, over the weekend, Pennsylvania’s governor and legislative leaders reached a deal to delay its primary from April 28 to June 2; a bill to that effect is currently working its way through the legislature. And in Ohio, legislators are working on passing a bill that would turn the Ohio primary into a vote-by-mail election, with ballots due April 28. (Ohio had already postponed its primary, previously scheduled for March 17.) We’ll continue to provide regular updates.