Ohio health director to order closure of polls on primary day

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Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) announced late Monday that his administration will order that polls be closed on Tuesday due to a health emergency, capping a day of mixed messages and confusion over whether the state’s primary would proceed as planned.

“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 said in a statement.

He said Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, would issue the order and that Secretary of State Frank LaRose would then seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options to Ohio residents. 

The announcement came at the end of a day marked by disputes over whether Ohio’s presidential primary would be delayed amid a coronavirus outbreak that has spread throughout the U.S., prompting federal, state and local officials to recommend against large gatherings.

DeWine announced earlier Monday that he would support a lawsuit to postpone the primary until June, saying that the state shouldn’t force voters to pick between “their health and their constitutional rights and duties.”

But a Franklin County judge later that evening, after many poll workers had reportedly been told the election was off, rejected the suit, ruled that it would be a “terrible precedent” for a judge to change the date and rules 12 hours before the election takes place. 

Health officials have warned that elderly people and those with underlying conditions are more susceptible to contracting the novel coronavirus and that they should avoid public areas. Pointing to those warnings, LaRose and DeWine said in a joint statement ahead of the governor’s announcement that “it simply isn’t possible to hold an election that will be considered legitimate by Ohians.”

“They mustn’t be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional rights,” he said, echoing DeWine. 

The Ohio Department of Health has confirmed 50 cases in the state and 14 hospitalizations. State officials have predicted that there could be more than 100,000 cases in the state. DeWine has also ordered all restaurants and bars to remain closed amid the outbreak. 

Arizona, Florida and Illinois still plan to hold their elections Tuesday. Several states, including Louisiana, Georgia and Kentucky, have postponed their elections amid the outbreak.

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