Louisiana will delay presidential primary due to coronavirus

A person finishes voting during a runoff election for Louisiana Governor at a polling station at Quitman High School on November 16, 2019, in Quitman, Louisiana. By Kate Sullivan and Adam Levy, CNN

(CNN) -- Louisiana will delay its presidential primary next month because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards will issue an executive order on Friday that will postpone the state's upcoming elections including its presidential primary, his office said.

"We are experiencing community spread of coronavirus in Louisiana and the Governor is taking decisive action to slow its progress," Christina Stephens, Edwards' deputy chief of staff, told CNN in an email.

The primary will be the first to be delayed since the coronavirus outbreak began in the US and comes as other states grapple with how to deal with the pandemic and their own upcoming elections.

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said Friday that he requested the governor postpone the April 4 presidential primary until June 20. He also said he would request postponing state general elections scheduled for May 9 until July 25.

"While hurricanes, floods and tornadoes are at the forefront of all Louisianans minds, the threat we face from the COVID-19 virus is an unprecedented threat and unlike any we have faced," Ardoin said at a news conference in Baton Rouge.

According to Stephens, Edwards and Ardoin began discussing delaying the primary several days ago "out of concern for the aging population of poll workers and a desire to prevent the spread of illness."

Ardoin said the secretary of state's office has used this provision to request delays of elections before, including after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and after hurricanes Gustav and Ike in 2008.

"This weighty decision has been made out of an absolute abundance of caution for Louisiana's voters, voting officials and the general public as a whole, and there were many factors that led us to arrive to this conclusion," Ardoin said.

Ardoin said more than half of Louisiana's Election Day commissioners are 65 and older, and several polling locations are in nursing homes. The CDC says "older adults" and people with severe chronic illness are more likely to become severely ill from COVID-19.

The chair of the Louisiana Democratic Party, Karen Carter Peterson, said the party wanted to ensure that "every Louisianan has the chance to make their voice heard in this election."

"We are hopeful the Democratic National Committee will work with us to revise our Delegate Selection Plan to make sure our state is fully represented in this year's nominating contest. Louisiana Democrats are committed to preserving the health of our neighbors while ensuring the voices of hundreds of thousands of Louisianians are heard," the statement reads.

In response to the Louisiana news, the Biden campaign called on people to "please vote on Tuesday," when voters in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio head to the polls.

"As election officials working with public health officials are demonstrating throughout the country, our elections can be conducted safely in consultation with public health officials," Biden communications director Kate Bedingfield said in a statement.

"If voters are feeling healthy, not exhibiting symptoms, and don't believe they've been exposed to COVID-19, please vote on Tuesday," Bedingfield said. "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."

This story has been updated with information from the Gov. John Bel Edward's office.

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