Gov. DeWine Closing Polls Through Public Health Order

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WOSU) — Gov. Mike DeWine says Ohio’s primary election Tuesday will not take place after all.

After a Franklin County judge denied an attempt to delay the election and extend absentee voting through June 2, DeWine announced Monday night that the state will order polls closed due to a public health emergency.

“During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” DeWine said in a statement.

In the three-page order signed late Monday, Department of Health director Amy Acton orders polls closed across Ohio “to avoid the imminent threat with a high probability of widespread exposure to COVID-19 with a significant risk of substantial harm to a large number of people in the general population, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems and chronic medical conditions.”

Meanwhile, the governor says Secretary of State Frank LaRose will “seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity.”

LaRose sent a letter to boards of elections calling DeWine’s decision “difficult but necessary,” and announcing that the primary will be suspended until June 2, 2020. He also announced a number of new dates and rules for Ohio’s primary:

  • Boards of elections are prohibited from processing any new voter registrations.
  • Boards must continue to process and count any absentee ballots postmarked by Monday, March 16.
  • They must also process any absentee ballot applications received by Tuesday, May 26. That round of absentee ballots must be postmarked by June 1 and received no later than June 12 to be counted in the state’s totals.
  • Voters who have been unforeseeably hospitalized may receive and return absentee ballots through a family member of two boards of elections employees.
  • In-person voting will be held at polling places on June 2, beginning at 6:30 a.m. and closing at 7:30 p.m.

Lawyers for Jill Reardon and Judith Brachman, who sued the state of Ohio to delay the election and extend absentee voting, have appealed the ruling denying their temporary restraining order.

Monday’s back-and-forth resulted in confusion among poll workers, who weren’t sure whether they needed to show up in the morning. Some received an email or text from their local boards of elections telling them that the election was off, only to be told after the court ruling that it would be happening after all.

Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper called for clarity “from the top. And fast.”

For top politicians and boards of elections, DeWine’s latest announcement was the final word on the matter: “Based on Dr. Acton’s order the primary election will not take place tomorrow,” said Ohio Republican Party chair Jane Timken in a statement.

Franklin County Board of Elections announced it will comply with the order. Morgan Harper, who was running Tuesday in the Democratic primary for Ohio’s 3rd congressional district, says she will proceed as though there’s no election.

“The rescheduling of elections must not become a new normal,” said ACLU of Ohio legal director Freda Levenson in a statement. “But the chaos and uncertainty surrounding this election should serve as a wakeup call.  To respond to this unprecedented health emergency, it is imperative that the Ohio legislature, Governor DeWine, and Secretary LaRose ramp up their efforts to ease and expand opportunities for Ohioans to vote absentee.”