In a significant overreach, Louisiana postponed its scheduled Apr. 4 elections until late June in part for reasons that have nothing to do with the Wuhan coronavirus declared a pandemic.
Last week, Republican Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin said he would request (under R.S. 18:401.1) for Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards to delay these elections through executive order. Knocking these back to Jun. 20, with any runoffs to occur Jul. 25, Ardoin justified this by noting the relatively older age of many election commissioners and that voters with certain maladies, both groups having increased risk of contracting the disease, would escape potential exposure to the disease.
Between now and then, eight states will hold primaries or caucuses for at least one major party, along with other elections, but only Georgia at present also has postponed its presidential nominee selections, and only to May 19. That makes more sense on the surface.
With Republican Pres. Donald Trump’s declaration last week of massively expanded testing available as well as waivers of fees for that, even mildly symptomatic individuals in Louisiana have a chance to discover their status well in advance of Apr. 4 and well within the presumed maximum 14-day exposure period of the virus. Some won’t and a very small proportion of infected individuals are asymptomatic, but this number that possibly could spread the disease should be small on Apr. 4.
Further, polling places won’t have many people present at any one time. Even in locations hosting more than one precinct, it’s unlikely at any given time that as many as 250 people would gather, a figure less than the one used in a just-issued Edwards proclamation restricting congregations up to that number. And commissioners could take precautions such as wearing gloves to handle pens and identification documents and engaging in frequent cleaning of surfaces to make any chance of transmission negligible. Plus, few voters are so gung-ho over elections that if they didn’t feel perfectly healthy they wouldn’t quarantine themselves, nor if feeling at risk simply would pass on voting this time.
Ardoin’ s request is overreach. More appropriately, he could have reduced the scope of the request to two items: suspend everywhere in-person early voting (which had yet to begin in person but has through mail balloting) and push back only elections in Orleans and perhaps Jefferson Parish. Frankly, the impact of the virus mainly has been a local phenomenon substantially hitting only the Orleans metropolitan area; Ardoin could have given a verbal warning then waited until later this week to see how and if cases had spread out to add perhaps additional parishes.
This would affect the presidential preference primaries, in that the state couldn’t assign all delegates until all results came in, but with the new date making the state not only the last to decide but also outside both major party regulations to recognize duly elected delegates, it doesn’t really matter. Regardless, state party officials will have to petition their national committees to make an exception to include these delegated at the national convention.
However, two other reasons drove the request and dates selected. One, with the initial date relatively late in the nomination season, Louisiana already had next to no influence over eventual nominees, so that potential impact wasn’t sacrificed with the change.
More importantly, Ardoin had winked at the legal requirement that the state Republicans select their state central committee members on Apr. 4 because of the certain unconstitutionality of the statute defining that panel’s structure and election method. The plan became holding these elections during the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November this fall, along with national and other elections, after the Legislature changed the law to make it constitutional.
With such a late makeup date, it’s now possible for the Legislature, if acting quickly enough, to pass such a law with a one-time compression of qualifying dates for it to facilitate Republican committee candidates to appear on that ballot. It would require an invalidation of mail-in ballots already received from registered Republican voters and a solicitation of these again, but the bill could work that out as well. This may end up being too frenetic to happen, but the opportunity now is there.
Look for few if any of the other states with nomination contests still to come to postpone between now and Apr. 4, or even after. Louisiana dived in whole hog quickly because of additional factors other than the assumed epidemic.