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Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin listens while talking in his office about the state's election security, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. Louisiana is the only state slated to vote entirely on paperless machines that experts say are more at risk of cyber attacks and other issues than newer machines with paper backups.

The presidential primary elections in Louisiana slated for April will be delayed by two months, the latest in a series of dramatic steps government leaders have taken to slow the spread of the new coronavirus

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, Republican, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, both said Friday they would use a provision of state law that allows them to move any election in an emergency situation to delay the primary. 

The presidential primary elections, initially scheduled for April 4th, will now be held June 20th. Ardoin said in a press conference he does not know of any other states that have moved elections because of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19. 

"This decision has been made out of an absolute abundance of caution for Louisiana's voters, voting officials and the general public as a whole," Ardoin said. 

More than half of the state's election-day commissioners are 65 or older, and 32 polling locations are in nursing homes or other senior facilities, Ardoin said. He added it was "pretty impossible" to expand mail-in voting to every voter in time for the election, and pointed to the state moving elections in 2005 and 2008 because of hurricanes. 

Ardoin is making a recommendation to the governor to postpone the election. The Edwards' administration confirmed the governor will grant the delay Friday. Christina Stephens, an Edwards spokeswoman, said it's an "extraordinary measure but one we feel is prudent." 

"We’re one of the few states that is supposed to have an election in early April, which we think could potentially be the height of some of this in Louisiana," Stephens said. "Our poll workers are by large elderly, over the age of 70 and we think it is unsafe for them to be monitoring the election. We don’t think we would have enough poll workers...and we think we should be discouraging people from congregating in that way." 

Ardoin briefed officials earlier this week on the issues with the election and the new coronavirus. 

The state's closed presidential primaries, in which voters registered with a party can select their preferred nominee for president, were originally set for April 4. The new date is June 20th. 

Ardoin's office pointed to a section of the law that allows for the "emergency suspension or delays and rescheduling" of elections because of the possibility of an emergency or disaster. 

The state law says the governor, through an executive order declaring a state of emergency, can suspend or delay elections "only upon the certification of the secretary of state that a state of emergency exists." 

The new coronavirus, or COVID-19, has already caused officials to cancel major sporting events and other large public gatherings, and Gov. John Bel Edwards has warned of further disruptions to daily life as the state seeks to stem the number of people needing hospitalization for the virus. 

As of Friday morning, the state had tested 94 people with 33 "presumptive" positive results for the new coronavirus. 


Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com