A quirk in Louisiana’s election laws has caused political leaders to change the date of the state’s presidential primary election in 2020 to April 4, nearly a month later than originally planned.
The change means Louisiana’s primaries will be held later than any time since at least 2000. And it could boost the number of delegates the Louisiana Democratic Party sends to the convention next year as part of the process for selecting the party’s standard-bearer, who will likely challenge Republican President Donald Trump.
Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said the change could wind up giving the state’s Democratic primary more importance as it chooses its candidate from an historically large pool of candidates.
“We’ve got a pretty crowded primary that’s happening right now,” Handwerk said. “Going in April, I fully believe because we have so many of our candidates ... I honestly still believe the race could still be going.”
The state Democratic Party could also send 10% more delegates to the convention in 2020 with the new date, Handwerk said. That’s because the national Democratic Party has tried to incentivize states to hold their primary elections later than March to avoid a mass of states holding elections around the same time.
The state had been scheduled to hold its presidential primary elections, in which Democratic and Republican voters choose their preferred party candidate for president, on March 7, as it usually does under state law.
But an obscure provision of the election laws prevents any election from being held within three days of a holiday. Because municipal general elections are required to be held five weeks after the primary, the March 7 date put the general election within three days of Easter, which is April 12 in 2020.
The secretary of state’s office then moved up the election date up a week, to February 29 — but that too posed a problem.
Party rules prohibit state parties from holding their presidential primaries in February. Only four states are allowed to hold their primaries or caucuses that early, and Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada have long held their contests in February.
If Louisiana had gone ahead with the new date of Feb. 29, both parties risked losing out on delegates, which primary candidates amass in the elections to become the party nominee that competes in the general election in November.
“That would have put the Democrat and Republican delegation in jeopardy of not having their votes totally cast,” said Tyler Brey, spokesman for Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin, a Republican. “By changing the date ... it prevented them from having their votes jeopardized.”
Brey said the change had “no noticeable financial impact on our office.” Staff noticed the date change conflicted with the party rules while preparing for the 2020 primary. The change was made in an omnibus election bill that was recently sent to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk.
In 2008, both Michigan and Florida held their nominating contests earlier than party rules allowed — in January — and both parties only seated half the states’ delegates as a penalty.
Louisiana’s presidential primaries are closed, meaning only voters who are already registered with either party can vote in the primary elections, and independents are excluded. The Democrats should send 67 delegates to the convention this year, a Louisiana party spokesman said. Republicans are set to send 46, according to The New York Times.
John Couvillon, a Baton Rouge political pollster, said he doesn’t think the change will have a big impact on the importance of Louisiana’s party primaries.
“On the Republican side this is a nonissue because i would expect President Trump to get a near-unanimous vote among Republicans in Louisiana,” he said.
For Democrats, Couvillon said the party will be much closer to selecting a nominee and will share the new date with Alaska and Hawaii. By the time Louisiana holds its primary, Couvillon said the number of the state’s delegates will not be enough to sway the race, which should be down to a handful of candidates at that point.
“The field will winnow down very quickly” after the first slate of primaries, he said.
For the Republican Party’s part, leaders don’t expect the change to affect the race at all.
Andrew Bautsch, executive director for the state Republican Party, said the Democrats reached out to see about moving the election because the Feb. 29 date did not conform with either party’s rules, and the Republicans agreed on the new date.
Handwerk, of the Democratic Party, said he hopes any future changes can be worked out in advance.
“I certainly don’t want to do what we did this year, where we had this fire drill where we were scrambling to get it inserted in some omnibus bill,” he said.