By Jim Ellis
March 19, 2020 — The COVID-19 virus is causing obvious problems worldwide, and it’s changing the United States’ electoral system. Several states all with primaries on or before June 23 have already moved their date or are discussing such an option.
First, a total of six states already have held primary events and three general election cards are set. On March 3, full state nominating elections were held in Alabama, Arkansas, California, North Carolina, and Texas. Illinois followed suit on March 17. Ohio was also supposed to also vote on March 17 but halted their election at the last minute and moved to June 2. Four of the six early voting states hold runoffs, and three will host some significant secondary nominating elections.
With a 30-percent runoff law, North Carolina only has one congressional finalist election, the open 11th District Republican battle between former Haywood County Republican Party chair Lynda Bennett and investor Madison Cawthorn. Texas has a 50 percent runoff law, and the state will feature a Democratic runoff in the Senate race along with five Democratic congressional runoffs and seven on the Republican side. Though Arkansas requires 50 percent to win a party nomination outright, no federal runoff elections are necessary. Therefore, we have full sets of general election nominees for all regular 2020 races in Arkansas, California, and Illinois.
News came from Alabama yesterday when Gov. Kay Ivey (R) announced that the state is transferring the March 31 runoff all the way to July 14. The significantly longer cycle will potentially change outcomes, the Senate race in particular.
As you will remember, former US Attorney General and ex-Alabama senator Jeff Sessions finished second in the March 3 primary, one point behind retired Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville. Until yesterday, the two were heading for deciding the nomination at the end of the month. All polling was suggesting a Tuberville victory. Now, with almost four full months until the runoff, this contest has the potential of changing. Sessions will now have adequate time to alter his campaign message and has the opportunity to rebound and capture the nomination. The winner faces Sen. Doug Jones (D) in the general election.
Two open seat south Alabama congressional elections will also be conducted on July 14. In the open 1st District, both Republicans and Democrats vie for their respective party nominations. For the GOP, Mobile County Commissioner Jerry Carl and former state senator Bill Hightower are the contenders. The Democrats feature a battle between retired Marine Corps veteran James Averhart and biologist Kiani Gardner. In the open 2nd District Republican runoff, businessman Jeff Coleman and former state Rep. Barry Moore are the candidates. The winner faces retired educator Phyllis Harvey-Hall (D) in the general election.
The Georgia presidential primary was scheduled as a stand-alone event for March 24, but has been moved to the state’s regular primary election day, May 19. Georgia had originally spun out of Super Tuesday to the later March date and would be the only state in the Union voting that day. With the Democratic race all but decided, little reason remains for holding a stand-alone election, so the move to May 19 makes sense from a COVID-19 preparation standpoint as well as a financial one in that the state saves the cost of holding two elections within three weeks.
Mississippi hosts one runoff election, that for Republicans in the heavily Democratic 2nd Congressional District, scheduled for March 31. At this point, the runoff election is still scheduled for that date.
Louisiana was to hold their stand-alone presidential primary on April 4 but have now moved to June 2. The state’s regular primary is held concurrently with the November general election. If runoffs are necessary because no one reaches 50 percent, such contests are posted for Dec. 5.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that the April 28 regular statewide Maryland primary, featuring the presidential election and a special congressional election in District 7, will move to June 2. The regular presidential and state primary in Pennsylvania is scheduled for April 28, and New York hosts a stand-alone presidential nominating event on that day. Both are still scheduled for late April as of this writing.
Indiana is the only state with a regular primary on May 5, and this date is still the scheduled election. May 12 is an active primary day, and, at this point, all primaries or special elections are still on the calendar but discussions about moving may be underway. The states of Nebraska and West Virginia will hold their regular primaries then, in addition to North Carolina’s runoff election, and special congressional votes in California (25th District) and Wisconsin (7th CD).
May 19 features voting in Idaho, Kentucky, and Oregon. Texas has its runoff election scheduled for May 26, but there is active discussion underway about postponing this event.
June 2nd is a very active primary date, especially now since Louisiana, Maryland, and Ohio have all moved to this date. Regular primaries are scheduled in Iowa, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota. A week later, voters in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Virginia have their scheduled primaries. The New York and Utah regular primaries are scheduled for June 23.
Obviously, the aforementioned primary schedule is tenuous and several of these states could yet move their elections so the candidates and campaigns around the country remain in a state of flux.