DeWine indicates Ohio will postpone primary voting amid covid-19 concerns despite judge's order

The state is a key 2020 battleground.

March 16, 2020, 11:01 PM

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tweeted late Monday night that polls would be closed as a matter of a public health emergency as the state seeks to further press its legal case in court to extend primary voting to June 2.

"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, " DeWine tweeted.. "As such, @DrAmyActon will order the polls closed as a health emergency. While the polls will be closed tomorrow, Secretary of State @FrankLaRose 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 a few hours earlier, Franklin County, Ohio judge denied the state's request to postpone until June 2 its primary voting originally slated for Tuesday.

The 11th hour showdown is unfolding in the wake of a national emergency surrounding coronavirus and a two-person race to become the Democratic nominee.

The moves also come as the Centers for Disease Control issued new recommendations that gatherings do not exceed 50 people and that everyone practice 'social distancing,' and remain six feet apart.

"In-person voting does not conform and cannot conform with these CDC guidelines. We cannot conduct this election tomorrow, in-person voting for 13 hours tomorrow, and conform to these guidelines," DeWine said earlier.

"It is therefore, my recommendation, after talking with the Secretary of State, talking with the Attorney General, talking with the Lieutenant Governor, that voting be extended until June, 2, that no in person voting occur [tomorrow], but rather than in person voting occur on June 2," he said.

Vote by mail and absentee voting will continue until the June 2 in-person voting, Secretary of State Frank LaRose said during a press conference earlier on Monday.

“Extending an election is an unprecedented step, so we as a party are weighing alternatives on how to best do so -- including the possibility to conduct the primary election entirely by vote-by-mail, as is done in several other states, with a deadline much earlier thanJune 2," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said. "This could better serve the interests of Ohio voters and the primary process that is already well underway, and we will consider offering those alternatives to the court once the case is filed.”

The governor and secretary of state were to submit the recommendation to Attorney General Dave Yost for review, just hours before the polls were set to open Tuesday morning.

"The power to delay an election is not one that we have," LaRose said.

"As a result of this, I will be directing my attorney, the Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to not to contest that lawsuit, but we will be submitting to the court for their consideration or recommendation, and as the governor mentioned that recommendation is that there be no in person voting tomorrow, that the boards of elections continue to receive absentee ballots, though."

PHOTO: People participate in early voting, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Cleveland.
People participate in early voting, Friday, March 13, 2020, in Cleveland.
Tony Dejak/AP Photo

Both DeWine and LaRose highlighted the tendency for poll workers to be members of the elderly population, putting them more at risk.

"When we think about putting them together with so many people, it is frankly not fair to them," LaRose said.

"These are the very real choices that people were going to have to make. And ultimately, it is not fair to force them to have to pick their health or their constitutional rights. And by extending the voting period, everybody will have a chance to vote by mail, so that they don't have to come in contact with another person."

DeWine said making this decision the day before the primary is disruptive, but is "the best of bad alternatives," and protects Ohioans constitutional rights.

The state has 50 positive cases, according to officials.

Illinois, Florida and Arizona are still slated to hold their in-person voting on Tuesday amidst growing concerns about group sizes and the possibility of spreading coronavirus.

“We are still on for tomorrow. I can tell you that,” Matt Dietrich, the public information officer for the Illinois State Board of Elections, told ABC News shortly after Gov. Mike DeWine's press conference. “At this point, we’re not -- we’re not changing anything."

There have been "hundreds" of Election Day polling location changes in the state, according to Dietrich, and the state board of elections has worked to keep their online polling location database current to reflect those changes, and, if the changes were made last week, sent mail to affected registered voters about it.

President Donald Trump in a Monday afternoon press conference said that despite the White House recommendation that gatherings should not exceed 10 people, voting in-person is safe.

"It's a big thing postponing election," Trump said. "I think postponing elections is not a very good thing. They have lots of room and all of the electoral places. I think they will do it very well. I think postponing is unnecessary."

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