For Delaware County residents who went to bed early Monday night, it’s understandable if they ended up going to their local polling place Tuesday morning to vote, only to find a closure notice.
Late Monday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) ordered polling locations to be closed due to a “health emergency” — COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus. He said he was concerned about poll workers and voters placing themselves at risk of contracting coronavirus, which has been designated as a global pandemic.
“During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election (March 17) would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” DeWine said in a statement that appears on the Delaware County Board of Elections website. “As such, Dr. Amy Acton (director of the Ohio Department of Health) will order the polls closed as a health emergency. While the polls will be closed (March 17), 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’s office has issued the following information in regard to the unprecedented primary: “In-person voting will take place on June 2. Ohioans can request an absentee ballot up until May 26. They must be postmarked no later than June 1. All votes already submitted by mail or in-person will count. Only those registered to vote by the primary deadline of Feb. 18 are eligible to vote. Boards of elections are prohibited from tabulating and reporting any results until the close of polls on Tuesday, June 2, 2020.”
Through Sunday, March 15, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) said it would be safe to vote Tuesday, LaRose said in an earlier statement.
“However, new information has led ODH to recommend Ohioans who are 65 and older to self-quarantine in their homes, making it challenging for these individuals to vote on March 17,” LaRose wrote. “Because the authority to shift Election Day does not reside with the Ohio Secretary of State, this change must be enacted by either a legal order or an act of the state legislature.”
Earlier Monday, a last-minute legal injunction by DeWine and LaRose to delay the election was rejected by Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Frye, leading many to think in-person voting in Tuesday’s primary was still on. In his ruling on the lawsuit, Frye said it would be a “terrible precedent” to change the date only 12 hours before the election.
As of Tuesday afternoon, four people in Franklin County are said to have the coronavirus. The state of Ohio has reported 50 cases, but no deaths, according to NPR. The World Health Organization said each person infected with coronavirus spreads it on average to at least two more people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said people should avoid gatherings of 50 or more people, and President Trump recommended gatherings of no more than 10 people.
“Ohio has led the nation in responding to the coronavirus crisis” due to the leadership of DeWine and Acton, LaRose said. Previously, DeWine ordered sporting and entertainment events be closed, and restaurants and bars be closed (with carry-out and delivery allowed), and later that gyms, movie theaters, indoor water parks, and activity centers be closed.
Although Ohio’s primary was canceled, the primaries in Arizona, Florida and Illinois continued as planned Tuesday, The Hill reported. Spring primaries in Georgia, Louisiana and Puerto Rico have already been postponed. The Democratic National Convention starts July 13; the Republican National Convention starts August 24.
The Gazette reached out to the Delaware County Board of Elections for a comment on the cancellation of Tuesday’s primary election, but no response was received by the newspaper’s print deadline.
Individuals with questions about the coronavirus can call the ODH call center from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. daily at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0906 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.