INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Eric Holcomb on Friday took the unprecedented step of moving the state's primary to June 2 following weeks of unrest amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“The right of citizens to elect their leaders in a free and open election is one of the cornerstones of America. In order to balance that right with the safety of county employees, poll workers and voters, delaying Indiana's primary election is the right move as we continue to do all we can to protect Hoosiers' health,” he said.
Last week the leaders of the Indiana Republican and Democratic parties asked for the Indiana Election Commission to allow all Hoosiers to vote via mail-in absentee ballot. But by Friday they joined Holcomb onstage to say postponing the election was the right thing to do.
“This is about ensuring the safety of Hoosier voters and election workers,” said Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody. “There's no assurance the pandemic threat will pass by June 2 and the Trump administration is projecting a timetable of 18 months or longer. To that end, we believe a primary election conducted almost completely by mail is the safest option and Hoosier Democrats will continue to work toward that goal.”
Secretary of State Connie Lawson said the Indiana Election Commission will meet Wednesday to officially change the rules to allow all Hoosiers to vote via mail-in absentee vote if they want.
But she said some counties don't have the resources if all 4.5 million registered voters went this route so it's important to still have an in-person voting option.
“As Indiana's chief election officer, it is my top priority to protect our elections, but, above all else, it is my duty to protect the health and safety of Hoosiers,” Lawson said. “I believe the bipartisan recommendations we have asked the Indiana Election Commission to take will allow us to provide all Hoosiers the opportunity to vote.”
She said all deadlines will move back 28 days. For instance, early voting would start May 5.
Indiana is now the seventh state to push back its primary election, joining states like Ohio, Connecticut, Kentucky and Maryland.
“I think the governor took a very prudent action. It would not have been appropriate to have all these other admonitions against gathering in the public and then proceed to have the election held as scheduled. It's just incongruous,” said Allen County Republican Party Chairman Steve Shine.
He said the announcement is a relief, especially to poll workers who had expressed concern about coming into contact with people at the polls.
It is still unclear how the change will affect upcoming state party conventions where nominees for attorney general and lieutenant governor will be chosen. The Democrats are scheduled to meet June 13 and Republicans June 20.
Indiana Republican Party Chairman Kyle Hupfer said the state committee is working on contingency plans if it is not appropriate for more than 1,000 delegates to gather in one place. He said allowing delegates to choose their nominees is still important.
But Hupfer wouldn't guarantee delegates will get to vote on the Attorney General race including incumbent Curtis Hill and two other Republicans.
Another option is to have the state committee choose the nominees.
Zody said Democrats also choose national delegates at state convention and moving the date cuts it close. He also conceded some members of the Democratic Central Committee do not agree with him on a postponement of the election.
House Democratic Leader Rep. Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne said the first priority is the health and safety of poll workers so he is fine with the decision.
He said it gives counties time to address mail-in voting and prepare the best they can for June 2.
“But we shouldn't put it farther,” he said. “I hope it won't be postponed again.”