DeWine Stands by Postponing Ohio Primary

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Gov. Mike DeWine stood by state officials’ decision to postpone Ohio’s primary election in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The order by Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, to close polling places under a health emergency was discussed during a Tuesday afternoon update on Ohio’s response to the outbreak.

The decision late Monday night followed a Franklin County judge’s decision earlier in the evening not to postpone the election. DeWine says he fully supported the decision to postpone.

“It was made in the best interest of the people of the state,” DeWine said at the top of a news conference Tuesday, which was live-streamed and carried by several media outlets. Many of the poll workers who work Election Day are 65 or older, presenting a risk to them if they encountered carriers of the virus who came in to vote.

“One of the things that we know about this virus is that many times individuals who have this virus do not know they have it yet,” he continued. “Conversely, you could have poll workers who did not know they have the virus. We felt that this would be a real disaster.”

State officials also decided against appealing the ruling because a decision likely would not have come until overnight or early morning, even if they were lucky, DeWine said.

“We needed to signal very quickly to poll workers, to voters what the situation was,” he said. “We had an immediate health crisis we had to deal with.”

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted brought that point home. Husted, who has been in regular communication with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, said Larose told him that the Madison County Board of Elections voted to close its offices because a poll worker who had been in the office for training exhibited signs of the virus and was now being tested.

“These are the reasons that the director of health and the governor made the decision that was made, because we want to protect people,” Husted said.

Husted also noted that one of the scenarios LaRose expressed concerns about – conducting the election Tuesday would have been impossible because of call-offs – played out in other states that went forward with their primaries.

“We didn’t have to experience that today,” he said.

Husted and DeWine, both Republicans, said they were working with the Ohio General Assembly and the courts to come up with a plan for the delayed primary. DeWine had proposed a June 2 primary election day with absentee voting until that date, but said that wasn’t set in stone and he was willing to discuss alternatives.

The Ohio Democratic Party today filed a writ of prohibition Tuesday with the Ohio Supreme Court to ensure the primary election will take place and protect Ohioans’ right to vote, the party announced.

Monday’s actions by state officials “did not create unchecked authority with the governor or secretary of state to run a new election” and the legislature or a court must authorize a new election, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said.

“Today’s action seeks that court order, preserving the primary while also proposing a more workable window for the election to take place, along with multiple opportunities and a reasonable amount of time for voters to vote,” he said. “We hope the court, governor, secretary of state, legislative leaders and other parties see the necessity of this order to preserve the right to vote and complete a fair and timely election in Ohio.”

In a separate news release, Ohio Democrats called for concluding the primary earlier than June 2, a date that was “highly problematic for any number of reasons,” and argues there was no guarantee people would be able to vote that day.

The party also said it would advocate:

  • Implementing an expanded vote-by-mail process
  • Ensuring absentee ballots are made available widely to those who have yet to vote
  • Ensuring absentee ballots are counted and not tossed out because of minor technicalities
  • Including prepaid postage for absentee ballots to avoid a de facto poll tax
  • Providing an option for secured curbside drop off of absentee ballots and exploring other, safe options to accommodate voters that prefer in-person voting
  • Complying with the Voting Rights Act and its provisions against discrimination
  • Complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure voters with disabilities are not disenfranchised because they cannot physically cast a paper ballot

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said he “respected” state officials’ decision to postpone the primary.

“It’s a tough one. There’s nothing more important than our voting,” he said.

Portman, during a late-morning conference call with Ohio reporters, addressed how Washington is addressing the coronavirus.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.