After Tuesday, only one other state or territory has a presidential primary scheduled for the month of March: Puerto Rico. But party officials in the state have also requested the primary be moved.
A statement from the Puerto Rico Democratic Party said Chairman Charles Rodriguez requested that the territory’s legislature postpone its primary until April 26, with the potential for the primary to be held later if the virus is still not contained.
Some election watchdogs fret that delaying primaries is a step too far, expressing worry that moving primaries could effectively suppress voters’ rights.
“We all agree that the safety and health of the public is paramount, but steps can, and must be taken to protect voters and poll workers while also ensuring that the democratic process marches ahead,” read a joint statement issued after Louisiana’s decision from dozens of groups, including The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and the NAACP. “Sudden changes to election times, locations, and more have been proven to create barriers to, and in some instances the denial of, citizens their right to vote.”
Election administrators in the four states voting on Tuesday have been scrambling to minimize risk to voters and poll workers. Polling sites in high-risk places like nursing homes have been moved, and officials are instructing poll workers to routinely clean and disinfect voting areas. Voters have also been strongly encouraged to take advantage of early and mail-in voting as much as possible.
However, early, mail, and absentee voting laws vary widely state-by-state. Some states — like Washington, which voted earlier this week — allow for expansive mail voting, limiting the amount of disruption the outbreak can cause for an election. But others only allow absentee votes with a valid excuse and have limited (or no) early voting, adding a barrier for some voters that likely cannot be lifted without legislative action from state lawmakers or executives.
Elected officials and activists have started pushing for states to have more expansive absentee and mail-in voting in later primary states and for the general election, as fears over the long term effects of the virus’ spread builds.