Here’s What Is Going On With Ohio’s Primary Election

After a day of unprecedented confusion, Ohio’s polls are officially closed.

Dr. Amy Acton has signed an order closing the polls ahead of Ohio’s March 17th elections, just hours after a Franklin County judge ruled that he didn’t have the power to delay the election via the lawsuit brought forward by private citizens and endorsed by Governor DeWine. The request was to postpone the primary election until June 2.

The governor released a statement explaining his motives for the move in a statement late Monday night.

“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 a unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” said DeWine. “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.”

The days rapidly unfolding events left poll workers and voters in a state of confusion. Some poll workers were told hours before the court’s decision came in that there wouldn’t be voting, while others were holding out for an official order.

Governor DeWine doesn’t have the authority to close polls, but Dr. Amy Acton, the director of Public Health has does have emergency powers granted to her during a public health emergency.

The legal basis for powers granted to Dr. Acton can be found in an emergency come from Ohio Revised Code 3701.13. The code states that the Ohio Department of Health “may make special or standing orders or rules … for preventing the spread of contagious or infectious diseases.”

The authority was first given to the State Board of Health (the predecessor of the Ohio Department of Health) in 1886, when the state was fighting a tuberculosis outbreak.

While many agree that closing the polls is a necessary step, frustration is high for some that the decision was made so late. There are concerns about whether or not in-person voting will even be an option by June 2, how early and absentee votes will be treated and counted, and whether or not voting by mail would be a better option.

Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said that Dr. Acton and Gov. DeWine shared their conclusion “that the risk to voters, 35,000 poll workers, volunteers and the broader public through additional spread was too great to conduct in-person voting tomorrow. In deference to their expertise on this critical health crisis, I support that decision regarding in-person voting tomorrow.”

Pepper went on to explain that extending the election is unprecedented and that the Democratic party is currently weighing alternatives, including the possibility to “conduct the primary election entirely by vote-by-mail, as is done in several other states, with a deadline much earlier than June 2. 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.”

“We never should have arrived at this point,” said Ohio House Democratic Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) in a statement. According to Rep. Sykes, the Ohio Black Legislative Caucus asked the governor, Speaker, and Senate President to reevaluate Ohio’s preparedness for this election days ago.

“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 not to report to the polls before a judge had even made a decision,” said Sykes in a statement. “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.”

Most seem to agree that postponing the election is the right decision for the safety of Ohioans but disagree with the rushed process by which that decision was achieved. The same can’t be said for State Rep. Jon Cross (R-Kenton) who publicly declared that he’d be showing up Tuesday morning to open his local polls unilaterally, with the help of law enforcement.

We’ll have more on the rescheduled primary when all of the mess becomes…less messy.

Update: The Ohio Supreme Court has officially ruled and denied a legal challenge to the stay delaying the election. Vote by mail is looking awfully good right now.

    A daily Columbus email you'll actually love.

    Every morning we compile the best of Columbus news & events and deliver it in a quick 5 minute read that sets you up with everything you need to be a well informed Columbusian. Columbusite. Cbussian? Whatever, give it a try, you'll love it.

    You have Successfully Subscribed!