ATLANTA (CNN) — Georgia elections officials will postpone the March 24 presidential primary to May 19 because of the coronavirus, becoming the second state in the nation to delay a vote in the race for the White House due to the pandemic, according to Walter Jones, a spokesman with the Secretary of State’s office.
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement Saturday that coronavirus has increased the risks to voters and poll workers with in-person voting. “Governor (Brian) Kemp has declared a public health emergency. President (Donald) Trump has declared a national emergency,” Raffensperger said. “Events are moving rapidly and my highest priority is protecting the health of our poll workers, their families, and the community at large.”
Raffensperger said all votes already cast in person and all absentee ballots will be counted. He also said every eligible voter who has not yet had a chance to cast a ballot in the March 24 elections will be able to do so on May 19, along with the elections already scheduled for that date.
A Georgia government official told CNN that they began getting calls from poll workers, some of whom are elderly, concerned about their health on Election Day.
“It’s almost literally a life and death decision for these poll workers. And if we use rookies to do the job, the election could be a mess,” the official said.
The same government official noted that Louisiana’s decision to become the first state to postpone its presidential primary next month was not the tipping point, but made it easier to make this call. The official also added that the declaration of a national and Georgia state of emergency played a larger role in the decision to postpone the primary, coupled with dangers to the health of the poll workers.
State Senator Nikema Williams, the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Georgia, said that the state’s priority was to protect the “health and safety of all Georgians and to ensure that as many Georgians as possible have an opportunity to vote.”
“Continued in-person voting could compromise both goals. Georgians who have already cast their vote in person or by mail for the March 24 primary will be able to vote again in the May 19 primary for the elections already scheduled for that date. If Georgians who have already cast their vote for the March 24 primary do not vote again in the May 19 primary, their votes for the presidential preference primary will still count,” Williams said in the statement.
Kemp declared a state of emergency over coronavirus on Saturday morning. The state is working on establishing independent test sites in every major region of Georgia, locations of which will be announced early next week, Kemp said. The state has appropriated $100 million in emergency funding to address the spread of coronavirus in Georgia.
The announcement of the postponed presidential primary in Georgia was met with swift reaction from voting rights groups, including the ACLU and Fair Fight Action.
“Like hundreds of thousands of Georgians who have already voted, I voted today,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Planning should begin now to ensure that there are no disruptions in future elections.”
Fair Fight senior adviser Lauren Groh-Wargo said that the group believes moving the presidential primary to May 19 “will allow even more Georgians to participate. “Fair Fight is proud of the record number of Georgia Democrats and record number of Georgians of color who participated in early voting for this primary, demonstrating once again that Georgia will be a pivotal battleground state in November. Moving the presidential primary to May 19 will allow even more Georgians to participate, and Fair Fight will be watching to ensure every vote is properly counted,” Groh-Wargo said. The group was founded by former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.
Louisiana on Friday became the first state to push back a presidential primary since the outbreak began in the US and as other states grapple with how to deal with the pandemic and their own upcoming elections. Earlier Friday, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said that he requested that Gov. John Bel Edwards 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.