BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. John Bel Edwards on Tuesday again delayed Louisiana’s presidential primary because of the coronavirus — this time to July 11 — as the state’s chief elections officer asked lawmakers to expand mail-in balloting and early voting.
The primary originally had been scheduled for April 4. Edwards, a Democrat, has pushed back the election twice at the request of Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin as Louisiana continues to grapple with the virus outbreak, which has hit the state especially hard.
In the past month, more than a dozen states have postponed their primaries to give them time to adjust and plan. Louisiana’s primary initially was postponed until June 20, before being pushed back an extra three weeks to July, making it one of the last states on the current primary calendar.
Ardoin also is asking lawmakers to approve emergency procedures for the election. He wants to expand early voting from seven days to 13 days and widen the availability of mail-in absentee ballots to people impacted by the virus.
The proposal would allow people who are 60 years old or older; have underlying medical conditions that make them more at risk to the virus; experiencing symptoms of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus; or recommended to self-isolate to request an absentee ballot instead of voting in person.
The secretary of state also wants to change some precinct locations, including relocating polling places located at senior citizen centers and nursing homes, according to the proposal submitted to lawmakers and posted online by the House.
The House and Senate elections oversight committees have meetings scheduled Wednesday to consider the proposal. Ardoin’s spokesman did not return a call for comment Tuesday about the emergency request.
Edwards called the emergency plan, with expanded early voting and mail-in balloting options, “reasonable in light of the circumstance.”
GOP Rep. Stephen Dwight, who chairs the House and Governmental Affairs Committee that oversees elections issues, said the most contentious portion of Ardoin’s proposal centers on the expansion of an absentee balloting procedure that is currently limited to members of the military, overseas voters and people with certain medical conditions. Conservative Republicans oppose the expansion proposal while Democrats want to move to an entirely mail-in ballot procedure for the primary, Dwight said.
Among the questions, Dwight said: “If I have COVID-19 and am self-isolating, how do I prove that (to get a mail-in ballot)? I don’t know.”
Louisiana’s primary election will have no sway over who will be the Republican and Democratic nominees for president, with President Donald Trump running for reelection as the GOP pick and the Democratic field in recent days whittled to former Vice President Joe Biden.
Also on the primary ballot in Louisiana are elections for political party governing committees, along with some municipal and local proposition elections. Runoff elections for the municipal positions have been rescheduled to Aug. 15.
By MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press