Election 2020

CHAOS: Ohio Gov DEFIES Court Ruling That Primary Must Go on, Orders Polls CLOSED on Tuesday [UPDATED]

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine gives an update on the state's preparedness and education efforts to limit the potential spread of COVID-19, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Update 10:42 p.m. Minutes ago Gov. Mike DeWine defied a judge’s earlier ruling that the primary must go on tomorrow. He announced on Twitter that his director of Public Health, Amy Acton, will order the polls closed tomorrow due to a “health emergency.”

It’s not clear at this time what remedy he will seek to ensure every Ohioan has the opportunity to vote. It’s also not clear whether Acton’s order is even legal, even though the Ohio Revised Code gives the health department broad authority in order to protect the health of citizens.

Original story:

Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye on Monday denied a request by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Sec. of State Frank LaRose to move the date of the state’s primary, scheduled for Tuesday, amid COVID-19 fears. Many poll workers, meanwhile, are reporting that they were told earlier in the day that the election was off, so they don’t have their locations set up and likely won’t by the time polls open at 6:30 a.m.

Earlier in the day, DeWine announced plans to ask the court to intervene in order to delay the primary.

Ohio has 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths to date.

An email sent out by Ohio Republican Party Chairwoman Jane Timken Monday afternoon said, “Today, Governor DeWine and Secretary LaRose announced that despite precautionary measures being taken, they have made the decision to postpone the Ohio primary election in the name of health and safety.”

The email noted, however, that DeWine “does not have exact power to delay elections, so that recommendation will be sent to a court for approval.”

A follow-up email from the ORP clarified that the primary had not yet been officially postponed. Indeed, Judge Frye rejected the governor’s request.

According to statehouse reporter Jake Zuckerman, the judge cited the following reasons for the denial:

  • We don’t know that things will be better at a specific later date
  • People are harmed/disenfranchised by delay
  • Ballots cast could be lost in a delay
  • The Legislature has not called an emergency session

According to Zuckerman, Frye stated, “I don’t believe that plaintiffs have proceeded in a timely matter, or for that matter, that the secretary [of state] has proceeded in a timely matter himself.”

“No one is disenfranchising people intentionally,” the judge added. “The plaintiffs and people that are similarly situated could have voted absentee or voted by early voting. They’ve had some means to do that.”

“There are too many factors to balance in this uncharted territory to say we ought to take away from the legislature and elected statewide officials and throw it to a common pleas court judge in Columbus with 12 hours to go until the election, so the application for a temporary restraining order is denied.”

Ohio Court of Common Pleas judges run as partisans in primaries, but as nonpartisans in the general election. Frye, who has been on the court since 2005, ran unopposed in the Democrat primary in 2016 and was re-elected to a six-year term.

Ohio has no-fault absentee voting, but the deadline for returning ballots to the board of elections was Saturday.

There have been calls to extend that deadline to grant voters who might be fearful of being in public amid the coronavirus pandemic alternative voting options.

David Pepper, the Ohio Democratic Party Chairman, took to Twitter Sunday to praise Gov. DeWine’s leadership as the crisis continues to expand into all areas of life in Ohio. The governor has announced closure after closure— everything from schools to restaurants and bars to fitness centers—in his efforts to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Regarding the primary, Pepper said, “I believe events have overtaken the state’s ability to run this election in the standard way that accomplishes the dual goals of fairness and minimizing community spread.” But, he said, postponing the election would set a “dangerous precedent.”

“Things are moving so fast. Thousands of people who had no reason to request an absentee ballot even days ago might now desperately want one,” he said. “They want to vote. But they are seeing restaurants and bars closing tonight. They are seeing schools close They are scared They are medically vulnerable They may have caught a cold, or worse, and are being RIGHTFULLY told to stay in. And they are doing so, as they should!”

Rather than delay the election, Pepper proposed expanding the deadline for absentee mail-in ballots to Tuesday or Wednesday. “That gives anyone who is newly uncomfortable, feeling newly vulnerable, or shut-in because they feel sick, the ability to request a mail-in ballot instead of voting in person,” he said.

Pepper doesn’t explain how such a scheme would help voters newly fearful of contracting the virus. The time needed for voters to request a ballot, receive one from the board of elections, and then return it by mail would seem to make a Tuesday or Wednesday due-date untenable.

Complicating matters is the fact that poll workers were apparently told not to report on Tuesday. Polls need to be set up the night before in order to be ready for doors to open at 6:30 a.m., but some workers were told not to pick up their equipment, while others picked it up, only to be instructed to return it to the board of elections.

A Wayne County poll worker told me on Facebook, “We were called this afternoon before I got there & told not to get them, the election is postponed. Not sure who made that call.” A worker in that same county said she was told to return the election supplies.

“Greene County is closed also,” another wrote.

“I’m a poll worker in Hamilton Co and have been told not to report to the polls for setup tonight,” said another.

This poll worker summed up the chaos: “Now after many poll workers were told no election, locations were not set up, data cards, etc… So, regardless of the ruling polling locations won’t be ready.”

While the legislature could enact an emergency measure to alter the regulations for voting, that’s not likely to happen because time is running out. Polls open in less than 12 hours, and it appears, as of now, that the election will go on as planned unless the Ohio Supreme Court gives DeWine a last-minute reprieve. The governor’s office has not announced whether it will ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

One thing is certain: Judge Frye is correct that such decisions are the rightful purview of the legislature. Having a judge step in to change the date of an election at this late date would only lead to more contention and chaos.

While much of the focus has been on the presidential primary—and indeed, the three state primaries scheduled for Tuesday could prove the final stand for democratic-socialist candidate Bernie Sanders—there are a host of other primaries on the ballot in Ohio, including those for congressional candidates and members of the General Assembly. Both Republicans and Democrats are no doubt scrambling to figure out what might happen next and to retool their campaigns should there be a delay.

One thing is certain: Turnout will be severely depressed on Tuesday. Ohioans have been warned repeatedly to stay out of public places in order to avoid spreading the virus and senior citizens, in particular, have been told to stay home. The judge’s decision leaves them in a difficult spot, with many unsure whether or not to defy the warnings in order to exercise their constitutional right to vote. There’s also the issue of whether poll workers, many of whom are senior citizens, will show up on Tuesday, and now it looks doubtful that polling locations can even be set up in time.

Update 9:45 p.m.: Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican, sent out a memo to members asking them to inform their constituents that the election will go on as planned Tuesday. “To my knowledge, the court is closed until 8:30 AM tomorrow and polls open prior to that,” he wrote. “You should instruct your constituents that the Election is scheduled to occur March 17 as set by Ohio Law.”

Image may contain: text

This story was updated to include additional information about poll workers.