The past few days have been filled with confusion. Will Ohio residents get a chance to cast their votes in the 2020 primary election?
The question begins with COVID-19, the contagious disease caused by a novel coronavirus. Cases of the disease are escalating locally and across the globe. As of mid-week, 67 people in Ohio ages 14 to 86 tested positive for the coronavirus, including 17 admitted to hospitals. That’s an increase from 50 cases reported as of Monday.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has taken extraordinary steps to stem the spread. This is wise given the dire situations in places like Italy and France where the countries are in lockdown due to rapidly increasing cases of COVID-19.
With Gov. DeWine and other governors ordering schools, sit-down restaurants, gyms and other businesses closed, there is bound to be an economic impact. But we see the governor’s strong moves as necessary.
Still, we are very concerned about the primary election that was scheduled to take place Tuesday of this week but was abruptly called off.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Frank LaRose was visiting county election boards to share safety plans for poll workers and voters.
Monday morning, Mr. LaRose held a press conference with Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton to discuss additional safety precautions for the primary – the next day. That afternoon, Gov. DeWine at his daily briefing on coronavirus called for the election to be postponed until June 2. He had no authority to do this, but he voiced support for an elderly couple’s lawsuit asking for a delay.
But a Franklin County Common Pleas judge tossed it out that evening saying there were too many issues to balance just a few hours before the primary. Dr. Acton then ordered the polls closed around 10 p.m. Monday, citing a health emergency. That was followed by an overnight ruling of the Ohio Supreme Court that refused to hear the case. So, Dr. Acton’s order stood, and polls were closed.
So, after that whirlwind of legal maneuvers, when is the primary?
Representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties in Ohio issued statements that the election had been delayed until June 2. But is it?
Neither the governor nor the secretary of state has the constitutional power to change an election date. That power lies with the General Assembly or the courts, according to experts. On Tuesday, the Ohio Democratic Party filed a writ of prohibition with the Ohio Supreme Court, asking that the primary election move forward with an April 28 voting date. The action also asks the court to extend deadlines, such as for voter registration and absentee voting, to allow for an expanded mail-in primary election.
What’s next? Do the mail-in and early votes already cast by residents count? Are they secure? Are we starting over on this primary? We need answers. By the time you read this, the situation may change.
Gov. DeWine and Mr. LaRose had good intentions, but their spontaneous actions have resulted in confusion.
There needs to be a balance between maintaining public health and ensuring Ohioans’ rights to vote. Yes, the Democratic presidential primary is important, but so are a number of local races and issues.
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. Gov. DeWine and Mr. LaRose need to work with party leaders and state lawmakers to quickly straighten out this mess.
We just want a chance to vote.