UPDATE: In a late-night announcement, Governor Mike DeWine – through the state’s Health Director Dr. Amy Acton – declared a Health Emergency and ordered the polls closed for Tuesday’s primary election.
In a Facebook post, the Governor’s office said, “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. 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.”
Read the full order:
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An Ohio judge has rejected Gov. Mike DeWine’s attempt to postpone Tuesday’s primary election, saying it would set a “terrible precedent” to have a judge intervene at the last minute.
Speaking at a press conference Monday afternoon, DeWine said he wanted to postpone Tuesday’s primary election, but he lacks the authority to unilaterally delay an election under the Ohio Constitution.
So the state instead supported an independent lawsuit filed Monday in Franklin County to postpone in-person voting in the election until June 2.
Mayle LLC, an Ohio-based law firm, announced that it filed a lawsuit in the Ohio Supreme Court asking the court to “enforce Ohio election law and hold the elections tomorrow as scheduled.”
“For many good reasons, the Legislature fixes election dates well in advance. And the Ohio General Assembly, the Legislature, knew of the Coronavirus months ago and chose not to change the primary date – knowing that this state has generous early and absentee voting,” the law firm said in a statement.
“We do not believe that any executive official – no matter how caring or well intentioned – has power to ask one judge in Columbus to change an election date that all candidates and voters throughout Ohio thought was set in stone (not sand). It would shake the core of the separation of powers if courts now may change something so basic as election dates. We hope the Supreme Court of Ohio agrees and rules tonight,” the statement continued.
DeWine conceded during his Monday press conference that the Ohio Constitution only allows a governor to postpone an election during an “invasion,” but said that the coronavirus outbreak resembles “an invasion.”
“It is clear that tomorrow’s in person voting does not conform and cannot conform with these CDC guidelines. We cannot conduct this election tomorrow, the in-person voting, for 13 hours tomorrow and conform to these guidelines,” he said. “We should not force them to make this choice, a choice between their health and their constitutional rights and their duties as American citizens. Further, we should not be in a situation where the votes of these individuals who are conflicted are suppressed.”
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard A. Frye rejected the lawsuit in a Monday evening ruling, saying it would set a “terrible” precedent and should be left to the Legislature to decide on.
“There are too many factors to balance in this uncharted territory to say that we ought to take this away from the legislature and elected statewide officials, and throw it to a common pleas court judge in Columbus 12 hours before the election,” Frye said in his ruling.
He said that “there is no medical evidence here today to suggest that” it would be safer to vote in June, according to Politico.
“To the contrary, it’s my understanding from the briefings we’ve seen in the national media that it may be months before we get to a point of stability or a peak of the virus and its transmission rates,” he added.
One source familiar with the situation suggested that the lawsuit was announced at the last hour so as to prevent anyone from blocking its enforcement. The source noted that there are a lot of candidates who have invested thousands of dollars in their races in anticipation of Tuesday’s primary.
Additionally, Gov. DeWine’s daughter, Alice, is on the ballot in the Republican primary for Greene County prosecutor and is expected to lose the race, a source said.
The source called DeWine’s Monday announcement an unconstitutional setup and advised candidates to file a legal motion against the lawsuit.
Ohio officials said they consulted with federal authorities about the matter, but President Donald Trump said during a Monday press conference that he disagrees with postponing an election.
“I’d leave that up to the states,” he said, noting that “postponing elections is not a very good thing.”
“They have lots of room in a lot of the electoral places and I think that they will do it very well, but I think postponing is unnecessary,” he added.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said public health professionals previously thought it would be safe to hold an election Tuesday, but now their advice has changed.
Arizona, Florida, and Illinois plan to proceed with their primary elections Tuesday despite the outbreak.
“I believe when we look back on this, we’ll be happy we did this. The votes that have already been cast will still be counted – and this recommendation would allow others to vote in the future,” DeWine wrote on Twitter. “In the meantime, voters would still be able to request absentee ballots.”
I believe when we look back on this, we'll be happy we did this. The votes that have already been cast will still be counted – and this recommendation would allow others to vote in the future. #COVID19 #COVID19OhioReady
— Governor Mike DeWine (@GovMikeDeWine) March 16, 2020
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