Ohio health chief orders polls closed as a health emergency; primary election not happening Tuesday

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>>> Live Results: Ohio’s 2020 Primary Election <<<

UPDATE: LaRose lays out next steps for Ohio Primary Election

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton ordered polls closed as part of a health emergency, Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday night, effectively postponing in-person voting for Tuesday’s primary election.

DeWine added Secretary of State Frank LaRose will take that time to find a way in the courts to extend voting options.

DeWine issued the following statement:

During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at a unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus. As such, Health Director 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.

Additionally, one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed earlier Monday seeking to postpone the primary election has filed an appeal.

The appeal reads, in part:

The Court’s decision is immediately appealable pursuant to Ohio Revised Code § 2505.02 (B)(1) and (4). The Court held a hearing on the Motion, commencing at approximately 6:30 p.m. on March 16, 2020. The undersigned was present at the hearing and during the Court’s decision denying the Motion, which was made orally from the bench. As of the time of filing this notice, the Court had not yet issued a written Order and/or entered a docket entry reflecting the Court’s oral ruling. However given the exigencies of the issues and the timeliness of the relief sought, Plaintiffs give immediate notice of the appeal. This notice will be supplemented upon the issuance of a written Order or docket entry.

Earlier Monday, a Franklin County Court of Common Pleas judge declined to order the postponement of Ohio’s 2020 primary election. 

When issuing his ruling, Judge Richard Frye said he was reluctant, as a common pleas judge in Franklin County, to override the election date set by the Ohio legislature. He pointed to the fact that the coronavirus has been an issue of concern since January, and absentee voting has been an option for the last month. 

“There are too many factors to balance in this uncharted territory to say that we ought to take it away from the legislature and elected statewide officials, and throw it to a common pleas court judge in Columbus with 12 to go to the election. So the application for a temporary restraining order is denied,” Frye said.

In a press conference Monday afternoon, DeWine recommended in-person voting be delayed until June 2 with absentee voting continuing until that day. Since the governor has no power to delay the election absent an invasion, a lawsuit was filed by another party to delay the election. 

That lawsuit was filed Monday evening by Judy Brockman and Jill Reardon. Both are over the age of 65 and considered ‘vulnerable’ to the risks posed by COVID-19 coronavirus. 

In an affidavit filed with the lawsuit, Reardon says she was recently treated for pancreatic cancer and suffers from a severe immune deficiency. She says if the primary election is held on March 17, she will have to forego her right to vote instead of potentially expose herself to COVID-19. 

Representatives from the Ohio legislature were present during the hearing and argued that the election date is the sole responsibility of the legislature. 

A representative from the Ohio Democratic party proposed an absentee voting only election with an April 28 deadline. That proposal was also rejected. 

After all the confusion, the Franklin County Board of Elections issued a statement — it’s third of the night — Monday telling poll workers not to report to work Tuesday.

The statement reads:

Tonight the Ohio Director of Health Dr. Amy Acton issued an order closing all polling locations throughout Ohio including all of Franklin County’s 330 polling locations. Franklin County will abide by this order and will work at the guidance of the Ohio Secretary of State following the latest Directive released this evening. Further details regarding re-scheduling of Primary Election will be forthcoming.

Franklin County Board of Elections

House Democratic leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) issued a statement Monday night, saying the situation should not have happened the way it did.

Sykes’ statement reads:

One of the things I learned in law school was you can never predict what a judge will do.

We never should have arrived at this point. The Ohio Black Legislative Caucus (OLBC) asked days ago for the governor, Speaker and Senate President to reevaluate our preparedness for this election. They called on the legislature to convene to address these concerns and others. We knew our local boards of elections were concerned. We knew the public was concerned. We knew our poll workers were concerned. But they waited and miscalculated and ordered poll workers to not report to the polls before a judge had even made a decision.

I am deeply disappointed with how this situation was handled. This is why Ohio needs to update its archaic system and modernize voting like so many other states have, so we can adapt to emergencies. I hope the missteps we have seen tonight lead to a much deeper discussion at a later time about increasing accessibility to the ballot box.

State House Democratic leader Emilia Strong Sykes

Before the action of DeWine and Acton, Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder sent a memo to Republican members, instructing them to urge constituents to head to the polls.

The League of Women Voters Ohio Director Jen Miller issued a statement as well, applauding the move to close the polls as well as advocating for change in parts of the voting process.

Her statement reads, in part:

“Postponing an election is never ideal, but the health and safety of the public is paramount during this coronavirus outbreak. Ohio’s election laws do not contemplate how to run an election during a global pandemic, and voters should not have to choose between their health and participating in democracy. 

“In addition to supporting voters and poll workers during this primary, we will be advocating for changes to Ohio’s absentee ballot process and other election reforms.”

League of Women Voters Ohio Director Jen Miller

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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