ATLANTA (AP/WSAV) — Georgia’s March 24 presidential primaries will be postponed until May because of fears over the new coronavirus, state election officials announced Saturday.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger released a statement on Saturday, followed by a press conference about the postponement on Monday morning.
Watch the full press conference below.
Raffensperger said in-person early voting, which began statewide March 2, will be halted and the election will be moved to May 19, when Georgia’s other 2020 primary elections are being held.
The Chatham County Board of Registrars says absentee ballots “will be accepted as normal.” Early in-person voting for the May election is expected to resume on April 27.
A representative from the Secretary of State’s office says normal absentee ballot collection means ballots will be accepted until the previous deadline of March 24. After that, they will be accepted again during early voting for the May election, which starts in April.
The new deadline to register to vote in the presidential primary election is April 20.
In addition to public safety, one of the biggest considerations was the risk the virus posed to poll workers, who are often older, election officials said.
“Events are moving rapidly and my highest priority is protecting the health of our poll workers, and the community at large,” Raffensperger said.
Raffensperger assured that all votes already cast, including in-person and absentee ballots, will be counted.
“I cannot stress this enough,” Raffensperger said Monday. “If you voted early, your vote counts, and will be counted with the other votes cast in May.”
Raffensperger said Monday that the new Georgia voting system makes maintaining voting integrity possible during this time.
Only one candidate is on the Republican ballot in Georgia for the presidential primary: President Donald Trump.
The Democratic race has been narrowed to a two-man matchup between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Biden has been beating Sanders among key demographics at play in Georgia Democratic politics like African Americans and suburban voters and has been endorsed by a slew of state and local officials.
Raffensperger’s office said that the decision to postpone the election was made in consultation with the state Democratic and Republican Parties.
“Our priority is to protect the health and safety of all Georgians and to ensure that as many people as possible have an opportunity to vote,” state Sen. Nikema Williams, chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia said, according to the statement. “Continued in-person voting could compromise both goals.”
The action followed Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature of an emergency declaration that unlocked sweeping powers to fight COVID-19. In a speech Saturday, the governor renewed a call for places of worship, schools and others to consider canceling large gatherings as cases in the state rise.
On Friday, Louisiana became the first state to postpone its presidential primaries due to the virus.
Louisiana and Georgia are two of twelve states with laws that allow a secretary of state to postpone an election in an emergency, according to the National Association of Secretaries of State.