(WASHINGTON) — While six states have postponed their upcoming presidential primaries amid the coronavirus pandemic, several others have yet to pull the trigger, either continuing to weigh making the change to an election that’s been on the books for months or promoting alternative options voters have that can keep them from the polls on Election Day.
Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Maryland and Connecticut have all opted to reschedule their elections, and in Puerto Rico, legislation to change the date has passed in the territory’s Senate and House of Representatives and is now awaiting the governor’s signature, which the chairman of the Democratic Party of Puerto Rico anticipates will happen by mid-day Friday.
After Ohio postponed its primary in the 11th hour, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez urged states to encourage other voting options, rather than cancel primaries.
“Eligible voters deserve certainty, safety, and accessibility,” Perez said in a statement. “That’s why states that have not yet held primary elections should focus on implementing the aforementioned measures to make it easier and safer for voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote, instead of moving primaries to later in the cycle when timing around the virus remains unpredictable.”
For Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming, the next three contests on the calendar for Democrats, all three already had options in addition to in person voting available before the virus outbreak.
“We’re really pretty proud of ourselves for how well this has come together. It just so happened we were prepared for a pandemic,” said Nina Hebert, communications director for the Wyoming Democratic Party, which canceled its in-person caucus set for April 4, but has two other methods still moving forward: vote-by-mail and ballot drop off.
Ballots have already gone out to every Democrat who registered to vote-by-mail. While originally, these had to be postmarked by Friday and received by March 28, the state party has asked the DNC if it can accept ballots postmarked later, as long as they are received by April 2, in an effort to accommodate more people.
Voters can fill out and drop off the rank-choice ballots on March 28 and April 4 at locations in all 23 counties in Wyoming. Due to the pandemic, drop off locations in some counties, including those in Laramie County, the most populous county and home to the state capital, Cheyenne, will now be “drive-through” style — assuming there’s not a blizzard — to limit person to person contact, especially since many volunteers are older, and therefore more at risk of the virus.
But even if voters do have to enter the drop off locations, the number of people inside at one time will be limited, and will have to stand six feet apart. All volunteers checking people in and handling ballots will wear gloves, and voters will be asked to bring their own pens, and if they don’t, they’ll wind up with a free one from the party.
“People are going to be safer coming to vote at our office than they are going to the grocery store,” said Hebert, adding that the party has been working with the state’s Department of Health and hasn’t been advised to cancel.
In two former caucus states, Alaska and Hawaii, all voters registered with the Democratic Party by a certain date were sent rank-choice ballots in the mail, without having to specifically request them. In Alaska, these ballots must be in the mail by Tuesday, and in Hawaii, these ballots must be received by 3 p.m. local time on Election Day in order to be counted.
As of now, neither state has announced changes to its April 4 in-person voting, which in Hawaii, will happen at 21 polling locations across the island state, and in Alaska, will take place at 44 sites. Both plans also include in-person voter registration on Election Day.
The Hawaii Democratic Party did not return multiple requests for comment regarding the status of its party-run primary. The Alaska Democratic Party told ABC News Thursday that it’s reviewing its plan now, and while nothing has been finalized, the party hopes to do so soon.
“In light of the coronavirus spread, we are trying to make it easier and more accessible for Alaskans who wish to cast votes,” communications director Jeanne Devon said.
Wisconsin, which votes on April 7, is already “retooling” to prepare for an election amid the outbreak, as one Milwaukee election official told ABC News Wednesday.
While state election officials are “strongly encouraging” voters cast their ballots absentee by mail, in-person voting is still set to be an option on April 7.
In Milwaukee, precautions are already underway, including equipping poll workers with gloves and masks, supplying polling sites with cleaning supplies and disinfecting wipes, and complying with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in terms of social distancing, by spacing out voters in line and limiting the number of people inside a polling site.
Rhode Island and Pennsylvania are also still planning to hold elections on April 28, but not without pressure to reschedule, like Connecticut and Maryland — two states that were originally holding their presidential primaries on the same day — did until June 2.
In Pennsylvania, second only to New York for most delegates up for grabs on April 28, it’s not just the presidential primary being held, but all down-ballot primary races, like for U.S. Congress and state-level legislators.
County-level elections officials have expressed concern about the logistics of putting on an election, including the ability to count ballots received in the mail.
Lisa Deeley, chair of the City Commissioners in Philadelphia, urged Gov. Tom Wolf to delay the election until at least late May, saying that holding the election “will be exceedingly difficult” due to poll worker training being canceled, and Wolf’s announcing many statewide restrictions, including the closing of all bars and restaurant dine-in services.
And on Thursday, Wolf escalated restrictions in the state, announcing that all non-life-sustaining businesses in the state must close. But while Wolf’s taken decisive action in many areas in the state, his “silence” on the primary has been “alarming to counties,” said Forrest Lehman, director of Elections and Registration for Lycoming County.
“We need to know yesterday if there was going to be a primary on April 28 or not so that we can start making contingency plans… because we are we are paralyzed right now watching things on the calendar just slip away,” Lehman told ABC News. “I’ve never seen a primary in greater peril – or any election in greater peril – if the governor does not make a decision about this one way or the other as soon as possible.”
Wolf’s office did not return a request for comment on the status of the primary, or Lehman’s criticism.
Wanda Murren, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of State, told ABC News the governor and the department “are continuing to discuss options… in consultation with the Department of Health, the legislature and the counties.”
“Our collective goal at this time is to maintain the security of our election and people’s fundamental right to vote while at the same time protecting the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians,” she said, encouraging voters to apply for a mail-in ballot.
Any voter not eligible for an absentee ballot can request a mail-in ballot in Pennsylvania. Voters can apply online, by mail or by visiting their county election office. Applications must be received by 5 p.m. on April 21, one week before the election.
On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Board of Elections voted to ask Gov. Gina Raimondo to postpone the election until June 2, make the primary predominantly vote-by-mail, and send all registered voters applications to apply for a ballot, giving them a stamp to return the applications. Bob Rapoza, executive director for the Board of Elections, said there would still be polls open in every town and city, but probably only one per locale.
“If we open up polls as we normally would on April 28, we would have a tremendously hard time to recruit poll workers for one, and some of our polling places are in nursing homes and other complexes where we would probably be asked to leave to go somewhere else,” Rapoza told ABC News.
While Rapoza was hopeful the governor would agree to change the date, Raimondo has not made a decision yet.
“The Rhode Island primary is still more than a month away, and the Governor’s top priority is protecting the immediate public health and safety of Rhode Islanders. She is open to the idea of moving the election date and will rely on guidance from public health and election officials to inform that decision,” her press secretary, Josh Block, told ABC News Thursday.
Even without these changes, Rhode Island voters don’t need an excuse to vote-by-mail, but in New York, second only to California in total delegates up for grabs in the Democratic primary, that’s not the case.
According to the New York Board of Elections, voters must meet one of the following criteria in order to vote with an absentee ballot: be out of their county or New York City on Election Day, be unable to go to the polls because they are sick or are caring for someone who is sick or physically disabled, be a resident or patient of a Veterans Health Administration Hospital, or be in jail awaiting action from a Grand Jury or be in prison for a non-felony conviction.
There is currently no other vote-by-mail option in the state. New York is scheduled to do in-person early voting from April 18 through April 26.
ABC News left two messages for public information officers at the New York Board of Elections, but never received a call back.
While it doesn’t vote until May 12, West Virginia, however, has already taken action to change who can vote absentee.
“While the Governor’s declaration of emergency remains in place, we thus conclude that the Secretary may take emergency measures like (allowing broader access to absentee, by mail voting) that help ensure voter access and election integrity in the primary election,” a legal opinion from Attorney General Patrick Morrisey read.
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