Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration will order polls closed on Tuesday as a “health emergency.”
DeWine announced this change at 10:08 p.m. Monday after a judge ordered polls to remain open. Tuesday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose will seek a legal remedy to extend voting.
“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 the release.
The Republican governor’s statement capped a night of confusion, with Ohioans — and poll workers — unsure if there would be an election. That was still unclear barely eight hours before polls were scheduled to open at 6:30 a.m.
A Franklin County judge had earlier in the day denied a request to delay Ohio’s in-person voting. Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard A. Frye said it would be a “terrible precedent” for a judge to step in 12 hours before polls open to rewrite the election code.
DeWine had wanted to cancel in-person voting amid concerns about the novel coronavirus, and instead extend voting by mail through June 2.
He had wanted to reschedule in-person voting for June 2. But DeWine did not have the authority to change the date of the election – a task reserved for the Ohio Legislature.
Former Ohio Department of Aging Director Judith Brachman filed a lawsuit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to delay in-person voting. Brachman, 81, told the Columbus Dispatch that she wanted to ensure that elderly voters didn’t have to make a choice between their health and voting.
The on-again, off-again election led to confusion among Hamilton County Board of Elections members. The four-member board received an email from the Ohio Director of Elections at 6:59 p.m. that the judge approved the request and delayed the election. The email was rescinded five minutes later.
“We’re in the fog of war at the moment and we’re getting information that’s late-breaking,” said Alex Triantafilou, Hamilton County GOP chairman and member of the board. “Everyone in this county wants to know if we’re having an election.”
The board adjourned late Monday evening with the plan to hold the election Tuesday morning as previously scheduled. That could change if the Ohio Secretary of State and Attorney General appeal the decision. Kenneth Henning, a representative for the Ohio Secretary of State told the board, the state planned to appeal the decision.
Why did DeWine choose June 2? The Republican September would be safer, but the parties need to choose their presidential delegates ahead of the conventions. (The Democratic National Convention is July 13 through July 16. The Republican National Convention is Aug. 24 through Aug. 27.)
“We recognize that the timing of this decision is not ideal,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, the state’s former chief election official. “Things change really quickly.”
Asked about potential disruptions to elections, President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon said, “It’s a big thing postponing an election. I think postponing an election’s a very tough thing. I think they’ll do it very safely. Not a very good thing.”
Ohio Republican Party leader Jane Timken and Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper were consulted about the change.
“We fully support this recommendation, while knowing how difficult this will be on our candidates and their campaigns,” Timken said in a statement. “We will work with all parties to assist in disseminating information on the new primary date and the new voting rules associated with this change.”