Home Coronavirus Pandemic Voting polls ordered to close for Tuesday’s primary election citing a ‘health emergency’

Voting polls ordered to close for Tuesday’s primary election citing a ‘health emergency’

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Athens County Board of Elections. File Photo by Morgan McCarthy.

Amy Acton, head of the Ohio Department of Health, ordered voting polls to close Tuesday, citing a “health emergency” amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement released from Gov. Mike DeWine’s office mere hours before Election Day.

“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’s statement said.

At a press conference Monday afternoon DeWine said that if voting were to take place on March 17, individuals at high risk of contracting the coronavirus would be asked to make a choice between their constitutional right to vote and their health. DeWine recommended the election be postponed til June 2. 

Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Frye denied the governor’s request around 7 p.m. that evening, calling it “terrible precedent.” The governor and Secretary of State Frank LaRose countered, saying Tuesday’s primary election is not possible amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans,” the press release said.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose will be working through the court system to “extend voting options,” according to the governor’s most recent press release.

The decision comes in the wake of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention updating its guidelines to limit gatherings of 50 people or more. DeWine said that an in-person election would conflict with those new guidelines. Additionally, Ohio’s previous order of limiting mass gathering of 100 people or more will be updated to “conform” with the CDC’s recommendation. 

According to DeWine, about 35,000 poll workers were scheduled to work the election. 

“We don’t know coming through the line who is infected or if the poll worker is infected,” DeWine said. 

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said the decision reflects Ohio citizens reaching out to the governor’s office and expressing fear for their health. Husted reiterated that the governor’s office believes it’s not fair for citizens to choose between their health and constitutional voting rights. 

Debbie Quivey, director of the Athens County Board of Elections, said over the phone to The New Political that despite no official notice, she believed earlier Monday the election will be postponed. 

“I was totally caught off guard with it, I imagine everyone is,” Quivey said. “I think they did the right thing because the health of our voters should come first.”

Quivey anticipated a large turnout of university students to participate in early voting over the weekend. 

“We anticipated a large turnout over the weekend, there was no large turnout because they aren’t here,” Quivey said. 

Ohio University moved all classes online for the rest of spring semester Friday and discouraged students from moving out of campus dorms over the weekend. 

DeWine also announced Monday the closure of all fitness centers, gyms, bowling alleys, public recreation centers, movie theaters, indoor water parks and indoor trampoline parks indefinitely under an order by the Ohio Department of Health.  

As of Monday afternoon, 50 people in Ohio tested positive for coronavirus, according to Acton. The first positive case of coronavirus in Ohio was confirmed one week ago, March 9.

Acton said the age range of infected individuals is now 14-86. She emphasized that all ages can contract the virus. 

For high-risk groups, especially those over 65, the fatality rate can be up to 15 times as high, according to Acton. Other high-risk individuals include those with preexisting medical conditions, obesity, immunocompromised, or pregnant. All high-risk individuals are encouraged to stay at home.

“We continue to stress that people 65 years of age and older should not leave their homes unless absolutely, absolutely necessary,” DeWine said, as well as those medically compromised or pregnant. “We should not be in a situation where the votes of these individuals who are conflicted are suppressed.”

Husted reaffirmed that access to essential services such as grocery stores, medical care facilities and banks will stay open. 

Acton said that the state of Ohio had been in contact with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and governors across the country to coordinate a national effort in combating the spread of coronavirus in the absence of pharmacological solutions. 

Cole Behrens and Maggie Prosser contributed to this report. 

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