Hours before polls were set to open, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced his administration would close them because of the “health emergency” posed by the novel coronavirus.
DeWine announced this change at 10:08 p.m. Monday after a Franklin County Common Pleas judge allowed in-person voting to continue. Tuesday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose will seek a legal remedy to extend voting. LaRose issued guidance to county elections officials saying the primary election has been suspended until June 2.
“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 the 11th-hour decision.
DeWine’s statement capped a night of confusion, with Ohioans – and poll workers -unsure if there would be an in-person election. That was still unclear barely eight hours before polls were scheduled to open at 6:30 a.m.
The wrangling started Monday afternoon when DeWine said he wanted to move the election to June 2. But the governor lacks the power to move elections.
A pair of women recruited by state officials – including a former state director of aging – sued the state Monday afternoon to block in-person voting Tuesday because of concerns about the coronavirus. The state did not fight the lawsuit and suggested the delay to June.
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard A. Frye rejected that request a little after 7 p.m., saying it would be a “terrible precedent” for a judge to step in 12 hours before polls open to rewrite the election code.
Just three hours later, Dewine’s health department director Dr. Amy Acton issued an order closing all polling locations on Tuesday – an authority she’s given under Ohio law.
Here is the three-page order signed tonight by @OHdeptofhealth Director @DrAmyActon that closes all polling locations in #Ohio due to the risk of #COVID19 faced by both voters and poll workers. #COVID19OhioReady pic.twitter.com/XRd4zJH4so
– Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) March 17, 2020
A day of confusion
But confusion had already set in among everyone from poll workers to boards of elections officials. Adding to the turmoil: conflicting statements from top elected officials.
In a joint statement sent at 9 p.m., DeWine and elections chief LaRose reiterated their desire to keep polls open, without commenting on a pending appeal.
“The only thing more important than a free and fair election is the health and safety of Ohioans,” they wrote.
[ Get breaking news alerts straight to your phone by downloading our app. ]
The statement reiterated the Ohio Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance against anyone gathering in groups larger than 50 people – that is sure to happen in some polling places on Election Day.
“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,” they said. “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.”
Meanwhile, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder issued a memo to GOP lawmakers saying that “while there has been talk of an attempt for an action from the Court of Appeals, to my knowledge, the court is closed until 8:30 a.m. tomorrow and polls open prior to that.”
“You should instruct your constituents that the election is scheduled to occur March 17 as set by Ohio law,” Householder wrote.
An erroneous email and conflicting reports
While Judge Frye heard arguments for the delay, poll workers were informed that Election Day had been postponed. CNN posted an inaccurate story saying the judge had granted the delay.
Hamilton County poll workers told The Enquirer they received a robocall at 7 p.m. from the board of elections not to set up the polling locations. Kayla Forshey said the message told her the election was pending a judge’s ruling. For Forshey, 27, of Montgomery, this is the first election she’s worked. She volunteered this weekend when she saw the shortage of poll workers caused by the concerns over the novel coronavirus.
On Monday night, hours before polls were set to open, she didn’t know whether there would be an election.
“It’s very concerning,” Forshey said. “It was already worrisome enough with the virus going around. Now, here at the 11th hour, we’re getting conflicting reports whether not to vote tomorrow.”
The board of elections sent the message out as a result of an errant message from the state, Board of Elections Director Sherry Poland said.
The board received an email at 6:59 p.m. from the Ohio elections director stating the judge approved the request and delayed the election. The email was rescinded five minutes later.
Once the judge ruled, however, the board of elections sent out another call telling poll workers to set up in the morning.
The four-member Hamilton County Board of Elections received the email at 6:59 p.m. stating the judge approved the request and delayed the election. The email was rescinded five minutes later.
“We’re in the fog of war at the moment and we’re getting information that’s late-breaking,” said Alex Triantafilou, Hamilton County GOP chairman and member of the board. “Everyone in this county wants to know if we’re having an election.”
The board adjourned late Monday evening with the plan to hold the election Tuesday morning as previously scheduled.
Why delay the election?
DeWine and LaRose had been saying for days that the election would continue, albeit with extra safety precautions such as more frequent wipe-downs of voting machines.
On Sunday, LaRose directed county election officials to prepare for “curbside voting” at every polling place, a procedure that involved poll workers shuttling to and from a vehicle outside to poll books and paper ballots inside.
By Monday afternoon, that plan, too, had been scrapped. As Ohio, other states and the federal government further restricted congregating in groups, LaRose said, a tipping point had been reached.
During DeWine’s daily coronavirus press conference, LaRose said, “We know that it would not be safe” to hold in-person voting Tuesday.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, a former secretary of state, said he talked to people who had voted every election of their lives and were planning to skip Tueday’s primary because of health concerns.
“We recognize that the timing of this decision is not ideal,” Husted said. “Things change really quickly.”
Why did DeWine choose June 2? September would be safer, DeWine said, but the parties need to choose their presidential delegates ahead of the conventions. (The Democratic National Convention is July 13 through July 16. The Republican National Convention is Aug. 24 through Aug. 27.)
Ohio Republican Party leader Jane Timken and Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper were consulted about the change.
“We fully support this recommendation, while knowing how difficult this will be on our candidates and their campaigns,” Timken said in a statement. “We will work with all parties to assist in disseminating information on the new primary date and the new voting rules associated with this change.”
Pepper said he supports DeWine’s decision to avoid in-person voting Tuesday but sees other alternatives to delaying the primary to June 2. He offered the option of voting entirely by mail and cutting that off much earlier than June.
“This could better serve the interests of Ohio voters and the primary process that is already well underway, and we will consider offering those alternatives to the court once the case is filed,” Pepper said.
Voting advocates said the dramatic back-and-forth Monday shows Ohio voting law is ill equipped during pandemics and other emergencies.
“The people of Ohio should not have to choose between casting their ballot and staying healthy,” said Ohio League of Women Voters Executive Director Jen Miller. “But we also need to improve Ohio’s election system so it can be more responsive in unforeseen challenges like this one.”j
Gyms, bowling alleys, theaters to close
DeWine’s administration ordered several businesses to close at the end of the business day Monday: fitness centers, gyms, bowling alleys, public recreation centers, movie theaters, indoor water parks and indoor trampoline parks.
In the past week, DeWine and his administration have closed schools for at least three weeks , banned gatherings of 100 people or more and closed restaurants and bars (although, takeout, delivery and drive-thru options are still available).
The goal of these closures is to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus. If too many people become sick too quickly, it could tax Ohio’s hospital system and leave doctors without enough ventilators. In public health parlance, it’s called “flattening the curve.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance Sunday recommending against gatherings of 50 or more people “for the next eight weeks.” Ohio will update its order on large gatherings to 50 or more people.
State officials said grocery stores, pharmacies and banks will remain open.
50 confirmed cases
As of Monday evening, 52 people had tested positive for COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Of those, 14 were hospitalized, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The individuals range in age from 14 years old to 86 years old. There are 20 women and 30 men, Acton said. The median age of the cases is 51 years old.
– Dewine announced polls would be closed on Tuesday over the coronavirus. This comes after a county common plea judge allowed in-person voting to continue.
-Dewine’s statement came after a whole night of confusion. both voters and poll workers didn’t know if the election was still on.
-2 women sued the state to block the in person voting over concerns, Judge Frye rejected the request to not set a teerrible precedent 12 hours before polls open.
-3 hours after, the health dept. director, Dr. Amy Acton, signed an order to close all polling locations. Contradicting orders by authorities confused everyone. Acton released sign statement saying ohioans shouldn’t have to choose between their health and voting, especially the elderly and immunocompromised.
-Ohio house speaker issued a memo to GOP lawmakers to remind their contituents that, despite the order, the election was still on for March 17 (LOL)
-poll workers received robocalls at 7pm saying not to open polls. now everyone is worried and confused due to conflicting reports.
-officials really wanted to do curbside voting. many lifelong voters planned to sit this election out over concerns.
-Dewine wants to postpone voting until september, but will settle for june 2nd. both parties need to choose their presidential delegates before the conventions.
-ohio dem and rep party leaders stand behind Dewine’s decision.
-either way they all look bad. this constant back and forth and miscommunication highlights the glaring problems in the system. The state is not equipped to handle such emergencies and it SHOWS.