With cases of the coronavirus expected to spike in West Virginia in the coming weeks, the state will delay its primary election. Gov. Jim Justice made the announcement at a Wednesday virtual news conference.
The primary election had been scheduled for May 12. But with public health concerns heightened, Justice announced the primary will instead be pushed back to June 9.
Projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show the coronavirus’ impact on West Virginia will peak at the beginning of May.
“All of you know that I was absolutely hopeful and very supportive of trying to do our election on May 12. I felt like that we could do it,” Justice said. “But as we continue to go and as we continue to get closer and closer. It's ever so apparent that that's just absolutely the wrong thing to do.”
Justice acknowledged that the state is expected to see an uptick in coronavirus cases in the coming weeks. He also alluded to research that shows West Virginia could be struck particularly hard when the virus arrives here in force. Data has shown West Virginia is about two weeks behind the rest of the country.
"We've got to know we're the most exposed state, the highest risk state — and there's no question moving this date is the right thing to do," Justice said.
The Secretary of State’s office announced last week that all 1.2 million of West Virginia’s registered voters would be sent an application for an absentee ballot. Election officials said voters could use the pandemic as a reason to vote absentee.
Justice and Secretary of State Mac Warner both said Wednesday that the absentee ballot initiative will remain in place. They said early voting dates will also be adjusted based on the new date for election day.
“We're going to move the dates up on a proportionate basis and all that, you know, in the correct format in every way,” Justice said.
Warner said his office has been preparing county clerks for the possibility of pushing back the date of the primary.
“We've been in contact with them constantly this week. I was on the phone with them this morning. I'll be on the phone with them again this afternoon,” Warner said. “And the real shout out goes to them. They have raised the questions appropriately about the election [and] how we're going to execute this.”
State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the governor has the legal authority to move the election, given the state of emergency and the threat at hand.
“The governor's declaration is really focused on protecting the health and safety of citizens and also the workers — because he's trying to limit their exposure to the virus and that's based upon the best medical information that's available,” Morrisey said. “The governor does have the emergency powers to move this election date because he's trying to protect the public health.”
While the primary election cycle has been in full swing for months, more than a dozen states have pushed back their elections as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.