Ohio Polls To Be Closed Tuesday Under An Emergency Health Order

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (at podium) discussed the plan for canceling in-person voting for Tuesday’s primary and pushing the election to June 2 alongside Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (far left), Gov. Mike DeWine (right).
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (at podium) discussed the plan for canceling in-person voting for Tuesday’s primary and pushing the election to June 2 alongside Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (far left), Gov. Mike DeWine (right). [Andy Chow / Statehouse News Bureau]

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Updated: 10:55 p.m., Monday, March 16, 2020

Ohio’s polls will be closed Tuesday under a public health emergency order from Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, the governor announced late Monday night, hours before the Buckeye State was set to vote in the March 17 primary.

Gov. Mike DeWine was unsuccessful in getting a judge to stop the primary and push voting to June 2, a date state officials hoped was far enough in the future that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic would be over while still giving electors and others enough time to prepare for the general election in November.

"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,” DeWine said in a press release issued after 10 p.m. Monday. “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."

Just three hours earlier, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye ruled against a temporary restraining order that would have delayed the primary.

"The notion that we postpone the primary until April 28 or June 2 — which are the two dates that have been suggested — presupposes that the health situation in America gets better," Frye said. "We have no medical evidence here today to suggest that will be the case."

Frye said he was worried about the security of absentee ballots if the election was delayed, and about the "terrible precedent" moving the primary would set.

Because the power to make changes to elections is technically not one the governor’s office holds, DeWine said at a Monday afternoon press conference that a lawsuit was expected and necessary, with the final decision in the hands of the courts and state legislature.

“It is, I believe, the right thing to do,” DeWine said at the time. “We cannot tell people to stay home and at the same time tell them to go vote.”

The governor’s office consulted with both state party chairmen, who agreed with the decision, said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who made the initial announcement with DeWine, LaRose and Acton.

Earlier in the day, the governor also announced more public health orders extending statewide mandated closures to include gyms and fitness centers, bowling alleys, movie theaters and indoor water and trampoline parks as of close-of-business Monday. DeWine ordered the suspension of dine-in service at all of Ohio’s bars and restaurants over the weekend; carryout and delivery service is still available.

WOSU’s Gabe Rosenberg and Nick House contributed to this report.

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