(Reuters) – Georgia elections officials have delayed the state’s presidential primary set for March 24 until May 19 because of the coronavirus, the state’s top election official said Saturday.
Georgia is the second state to delay its election as public gatherings shut down across the United States in an effort to slow the pandemic’s march.
“Events are moving rapidly and my highest priority is protecting the health of our poll workers, their families, and the community at large,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a press release.
Voters throughout the United States are heading to the polls or participating in caucuses to choose candidates to run for president in November. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are the only remaining viable candidates among Democrats, with Biden ahead so far and expected to land the party’s nomination to run against Republican Donald Trump.
Trump faces little opposition among Republicans and some states have canceled their primary elections outright to make sure that he holds his party’s nomination.
Georgia’s move to delay its election won approval from state Democratic Party officials, who said it was prudent given the need to protect voters’ health.
“Our priority is to protect the health and safety of all Georgians and to ensure that as many Georgians as possible have an opportunity to vote,” said party chair and State Senator Nikema Williams. “Continued in-person voting could compromise both goals.”
Raffensperger assured the party that all ballots that have already been cast will be counted, and voters who have not yet gone to the polls will be able to do so on May 19, when the state is also holding elections for other offices, Williams said.
Louisiana on Friday became the first U.S. state to postpone its presidential nominating contest because of the pandemic, while four states holding their primaries next week said those elections would go forward as planned.
The Southern state said it would reschedule voting in the run-up to the Nov. 3 election because of the outbreak. Officials there said they would postpone their scheduled April 4 primary to June 20 “to best protect the health and safety of Louisiana voters and voting officials,” Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said at a news conference.
The four states holding their primaries on Tuesday – Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio – said in a joint statement they would proceed with their contests while taking steps to ensure public safety.
“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,” election officials from the four states said.
Reporting by Diane Bartz and Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Daniel Wallis