While most voters were asleep, the fate of Ohio’s Tuesday primary election was being decided by the Ohio Supreme Court.
During a Monday afternoon press conference, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gave the impression that in-person voting would be postponed until June 2 as a precaution against the coronavirus. Since the governor lacks the constitutional authority to unilaterally delay an election, the state announced that it was supporting an independent lawsuit filed in Franklin County to postpone the election.
“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,” DeWine said during a press conference.
But a few hours later, Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard A. Frye rejected the lawsuit, which he said would set a “terrible” precedent.
“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,” he said in his ruling.
So the media rushed to report that in-person voting was moving ahead as scheduled, but that’s where things got even more interesting.
Shortly after 10 p.m. ET, Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton, who was appointed to her position by DeWine, declared a public health emergency and ordered the polls to close.
“Accordingly, to avoid an imminent threat with a high probability of widespread exposure to COVID-19 with a significant risk of substantial harm to a large number of people in the general population, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems and chronic medical conditions, I hereby order all polling locations in the state of Ohio closed on March 17, 2020,” Acton said in her order.
The Ohio Supreme Court then ruled shortly before 4 a.m. that it had denied a challenge to Acton’s order and would allow the delay to remain in effect. The ruling was issued without an opinion and three justices recused themselves from the case, including Justice Patrick DeWine, the governor’s son.
Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) summed it all up this way: “Over the last 18 hours, unprecedented chaos and confusion have reigned over Ohio’s election system.”
“The Ohio Legislature must provide an Act to respond to our local election officials, precinct workers, candidates and most importantly, Ohio’s voters, that provides clarity and certainty regarding Ohio’s primary election,” Householder said in a memo sent Tuesday to all House members.
He asked all members to prepare to return for a session so they can “adopt, change or extend Ohio’s 2020 primary election,” since it’s currently unclear when in-person voting will occur.
The Ohio Democratic Party criticized DeWine’s administration for the “dangerous precedent of postponing an election.”
One group has even launched a petition asking the Ohio General Assembly to impeach DeWine for “destroying the very fundamentals of America’s representative government” and “illegally shutting down” an election.
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