Democratic Party Grapples With States Postponing Primaries Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

The DNC rules still say a state can't hold their primaries after June 9 without facing a delegate penalty. Will the coronavirus outbreak change that?

As states postpone their primary dates amid the coronavirus outbreak, the Democratic Party may be forced to grapple with its own delegate rules — or risk penalizing states for trying to adhere to public safety guidelines.

Under current party rules, the Democratic primaries are supposed to be over by June 9. Any state that schedules their primary after that date could be stripped of half its delegates, ultimately risking its influence on the primary process.

But as states try to adapt to new public health guidelines around the novel coronavirus, which advises people stay in their homes, for businesses and schools to shut down, and limits the size of public gatherings to no more than 10 people, a growing number of states are delaying their in-person voting days.

A total of five states have postponed primaries. Ohio’s governor pushed its March 17 primaries to June 2. Georgia and Maryland followed suit. And two states, Louisiana and Kentucky, have suggested postponing their April primaries past the June 9 deadline, to June 20 and June 23, respectively.

The party has been monitoring the situation closely, and says its first priority is ensuring the health and safety of voters. But as of Tuesday, the party had not changed its June 9 rule, threatening delegate penalties. The rule was reiterated to state parties in a memo sent Monday, after news of Ohio’s primary postponement.

“The Delegate Selection Rules provide that each state’s first determining step must take place by 9 June,” the memo from the Democratic Party’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which was first reported by The Guardian, said. “If a state violates the rule on timing, or any other rule, they could be subject to penalties as prescribed in Rule 21, including at least a 50% reduction in delegates, which will need to be reviewed by the RBC.”

Neither Kentucky nor Louisiana have formally asked the DNC for a waiver, according to a DNC aide.

“We will continue to work with every state party as they adjust their delegate selection plans around coronavirus,” a DNC spokesperson told HuffPost. “The changes in Louisiana and Kentucky violates our rule on timing which is clear that all states must hold their contests by June 9th. Any violation of our rules could result in a penalty of a state losing at least half of its delegates. These changes will be reviewed by the Rules and Bylaws Committee.”

Three states, Arizona, Florida and Illinois, decided to hold their primaries as scheduled Tuesday. And already, those states have faced major obstacles in doing so; voter turnout has been incredibly low, elderly poll workers have bowed out of the process out of fear of coming in contact with the virus and state officials have been forced to move polling stations away from senior centers or community centers, and struggled to distribute appropriate sanitation supplies.

Other states, like Wyoming, have decided to do away with their in-person caucusing, and instead allow only mail-in ballots or drop-off absentee ballots.

Democratic presidential candidates former vice president Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ have both suspended all public campaign operations. 

Keep up with the latest updates on the coronavirus at our live blog.

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