Coronavirus prompts postponed primaries, questions moving forward

The primary election calendar has grinded to a halt due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Really an unprecedented time and facing so many unknowns that we are having to start from scratch and think about how to run elections," said Kathay Feng, the executive director of Common Cause California, a voters' rights group. 

States that haven't voted yet are scrambling to come up with solutions.
June 2 is now a significant date, because six states: Delaware, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, and Rhode Island postponed primaries to that day, joining five states already scheduled. 

“I think we’re going to see a hybrid approach," said Jessica Levinson, a law professor at Loyola law school. "Frankly a triage approach for these remaining primaries, where we’re going to see hopefully an increase in outreach and hopefully vote by mail and an extended period of time for early voting.” 

Levinson says we're likely to see a range of solutions from the states. Some of the states and counties have proposed expanding vote-by-mail or moving to all vote-by-mail. But, voters' rights groups say without a choice, some are in danger of being disenfranchised.  

“There is a fairly significant portion of people who need assistance and the ability to go in some place to cast that ballot is important," said Feng. 
These voters' rights groups welcome expanding vote-by-mail or sending every person a ballot. But, they also want to see more time for early voting and ensuring poll worker and voter safety. A proposed Senate bill calls for $3 million to help states to do just this.

The National Vote at Home Institute works with legislators to enhance vote-by-mail but also supports options for all voters. They say it's important for states to work quickly and thoughtfully. 

“We know how this can work, we know how it can work well, and so making sure election officials have what they need as early as possible to have the most options available to them," said Lucille Wenegieme, from the organization. 

While the immediate focus is on the primaries, many believe it's time to talk about possible solutions for the November general election too. 

“This is the moment for county registrars, state election administrators, to talk to each other as much as possible, talk to those who have an infrastructure in place and adopt a hybrid," said Levinson.