(The Center Square) – With just hours until in-person voting was about to begin Tuesday morning, Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton ordered polls to close because of a health emergency, a directive issued after a judge said he could not postpone the election.
On Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine pushed to move Tuesday’s primary to June 2 because of the COVID-19 outbreak. However, Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Frye ruled it would be a “terrible precedent” for a judge to change the date just hours before polls open.
“During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election ... would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at (an) unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” DeWine said in a statement.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive to county boards of elections that primary election day will be on June 2, spokesperson Maggie Sheehan said. Until May 26, Ohio voters may request absentee ballots on VoteOhio.gov and submit absentee ballots by June 1.
Corey Speweik, a candidate for Wood County Court of Common Pleas, filed a legal challenge over the election change. However, the Ohio Supreme Court denied the complaint, effectively closing polls today.
"While we are disappointed in the chaotic process that we saw unfold over the last few days, we do agree with the outcome: it is not safe or practical to hold the primary election tomorrow,” the League of Women Voters of the United States and the League of Women Voters of Ohio said in a joint statement.
“Postponing an election is never ideal, but the health and safety of the public is paramount during this coronavirus outbreak,” they added. “Ohio’s election laws do not contemplate how to run an election during a global pandemic, and voters should not have to choose between their health and participating in democracy.”
While Acton’s move nixed Tuesday’s primary, it capped a chaotic turn of events and sparked widespread confusion among Ohio poll workers and voters, with some taking to social media to voice their frustration.
“This decision will ultimately save lives while also upholding the right of every citizen to vote and have their voice heard in the political process,” the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus said in a statement.
Despite the change, there are still unanswered questions, which are likely to unfold in the coming weeks.
“A court or the General Assembly still needs to determine whether Ohio’s Primary Election Day has been moved and if more voting can occur,” state Rep. Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said in a Tuesday morning Facebook post. “This is not yet resolved.”
Primaries will go on Tuesday in Arizona, Florida and Illinois.