Ohio’s primary election delayed until June 2 over coronavirus pandemic

Ohio Gov. DeWine orders polls closed, election canceled
Updated: Mar. 17, 2020 at 9:54 AM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ohio (FOX19) - Ohio’s primary election will now be held June 2.

Citing the health emergency presented by coronavirus, Gov. Mike DeWine directed Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton to order polls closed Monday night, just hours before polls were to open statewide early Tuesday for the primary election.

Early Tuesday, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the decision by denying a legal challenge to the state delaying the primary.

The ruling was issued without an opinion.

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

“As such, Dr. Amy Acton will order the polls closed as a health emergency. While the polls will be closed tomorrow, 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.”

The decision, released at 10:20 p.m., came hours after a Franklin County judge rejected a request to postpone the state’s primary.

In her order late Monday night, Acton said it is needed “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 the people in the general population, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems and chronic medical conditions.

She also wrote that it is clear from history and experience that large number of people gathering at polling locations would increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19.

“To conduct an election at this time would force poll workers and voters to face an unacceptable risk of contracting COVID-19," her order states.

Polling locations have been closed, according to a spokeswoman for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

He "issued a directive to county boards of elections that primary election day will be on June 2nd. From now until May 26th, voter may request absentee ballots on VoteOhio.gov, and submit absentee ballots by June 1,” said Maggie Sheehan.

Absentee voting already has been underway for several weeks.

Hamilton County GOP Chairman and Board of Elections member Alex Triantafilou claimed the election had been “postponed” shortly after midnight Monday.

“As your representative to the Board of Elections, I can assure you that our dedicated career elections professionals were ready if called upon to have this election," Triantafilou said in a statement. "But, public health and well-being come first and we find ourselves in this new situation.”

DeWine and LaRose announced their backing of a lawsuit Monday afternoon by voters asking the court to delay in-person voting until June 2.

Hamilton County Deputy Director of Elections Sally Krisel confirmed poll workers were told not to show up for set-up operations Monday night, ahead of Election Day Tuesday.

“We originally told the poll workers not to set up at 7," she told FOX19 NOW.

"We have learned that the election is still on and will be held tomorrow – pending a possible appeal. We are notifying our poll workers to report to their assigned locations. Robo calls are being sent to set up tomorrow morning.”

After the judge issued his ruling against the election delay, DeWine called any election Tuesday illegitimate in a joint statement with LaRose released at 9:15 p.m.:

“The only thing more important than a free and fair election is the health and safety of Ohioans. The Ohio Department of Health and the CDC have advised against anyone gathering in groups larger than 50 people, which will occur if the election goes forward. Additionally, Ohioans over 65 and those with certain health conditions have been advised to limit their nonessential contact with others, affecting their ability to vote or serve as poll workers. Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans. They mustn’t be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional rights.”

DeWine’s order to Acton followed an hour later.

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