Louisiana postpones Democratic primary over coronavirus, the first state to do so

Key Points
  • Louisiana is the first state to postpone its presidential primaries because of the coronavirus outbreak. 
  • The state will push back its presidential nominating contests until June. 
  • Louisiana took the step as fears about virus transmission have ground 2020 presidential campaigning to a halt.
A man enters a voting booth to cast his ballot on December 10, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Jonathan Bachman | Getty Images

Louisiana will postpone its presidential primaries set for next month, becoming the first state to take the step as fears about the coronavirus outbreak spread. 

The state will push its presidential nominating contests back to June 20 from the planned date of April 4, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin announced Friday. It has also delayed its municipal elections until July 25. 

"We want to protect the health and safety of all Louisianans by doing our part to prevent the spread of this highly infectious disease," Ardoin told reporters. 

Louisiana's move to delay the primaries, and its allocation of 54 pledged delegates in the Democratic race, underscores the widespread havoc the global pandemic has wreaked on American life and institutions. Wyoming separately announced it would suspend the in-person portion of its caucuses and instead encouraged residents to vote by mail.

The outbreak has ground pivotal 2020 presidential campaign operations to a near halt. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the leading Democratic candidates to take on President Donald Trump in November, have temporarily stopped large, in-person campaign events to curb the coronavirus disease's transmission. 

The one-on-one debate between Biden and Sanders will take place in Washington, D.C., on Sunday with no live audience. It was initially set to take place in Arizona with a crowd in attendance. 

No other states voting next month, including New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland, have yet said they will follow Louisiana's lead.

Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, which hold primaries and award a trove of pledged delegates on Tuesday, have moved forward with their election events as planned. Some states have encouraged more voters to cast absentee or mail-in ballots to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. 

In a joint statement Friday, the top elections officials in the four states voting Tuesday said, "we are working closely with our state health officials to ensure that our poll workers and voters can be confident that voting is safe."

"Americans have participated in elections during challenging times in the past, and based on the best information we have from public health officials, we are confident that voters in our states can safely and securely cast their ballots in this election, and that otherwise healthy poll workers can and should carry out their patriotic duties on Tuesday," they said.

Here's what some of the states with upcoming primaries told CNBC about their elections: 

  • "The election is still on in Illinois," said Matt Dietrich, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections.
  • New York Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs said "at present, there are no discussions or plans" to change the state's primary date.
  • A spokesperson for the secretary of state's office in Georgia — which holds its primary on March 24 — told CNBC that "we want to make sure this gets done right" and "we share a lot of the same concerns Louisiana has." 
  • Alaska Democratic Party spokeswoman Jeanne Devon told CNBC that "at this time, we have not changed plans for our last-chance in-person voting on April 4, but we are paying close attention for guidance from local health authorities." 

In response to Louisiana's decision to postpone the primary, Biden campaign spokeswoman Kate Bedingfield said, "our elections can be conducted safely in consultation with public health officials." 

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

The U.S. has at least 1,700 cases of the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19, and it has killed at least 40 people, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

— CNBC's Steve Kopack, Yelena Dzhanova and Brian Schwartz contributed to this report.