Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. This is the most up-to-date information available as of press time on Monday evening.
COLUMBUS — Hours after a Franklin County Judge rejected a petition to delay Ohio’s Primary Election, the state’s Health Director declared a health emergency to close the polls on Tuesday.
In a statement just after 10 p.m. on Monday evening, Governor Mike DeWine stated, “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.”
DeWine and LaRose had indicated their recommendation to delay the election until June 2 due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.
In a joint statement earlier on Monday evening, DeWine and LaRose stated, “The only thing more important than a free and fair election is the health and safety of Ohioans. The Ohio Department of Health and the CDC have advised against anyone gathering in groups larger than 50 people, which will occur if the election goes forward. 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. 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.”
Earlier on Monday evening, an Ohio judge rejected a request to postpone the state’s primary amid concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, but it was not clear if that would be the final word hours before polls were scheduled to open.
Judge Richard Frye ruled against a motion backed by Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who earlier had backed an effort to push in-person voting back to June 2 to avoid crowds at polling places.
The 11th hour maneuvering was causing confusion: Some candidates had already brought suits aimed at keeping the election on track, but boards of elections had begun alerting poll workers they could stay home before Frye ruled.
“I’m very reluctant to undermine (state election law) and say, well, we’ll have a judge in Columbus rewrite the election code, reset the election for some arbitrary date in the future and upset the apple cart in a terrible precedent,” Frye said during a hearing on the request.
Frye suggested DeWine should have used his power to reconvene the Legislature to change the law instead.
Should the polls be open on Tuesday, voting would take place from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.