Ohio bars local, state officials from closing churches, changing election dates

A newly-signed Ohio law bars local or state officials from closing houses of worship of changing election dates. 

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWineMike DeWineOvernight Health Care: US coronavirus deaths hit 200,000 | Ginsburg's death puts future of ObamaCare at risk | Federal panel delays vote on initial COVID-19 vaccine distribution White House seeks to change subject from 200K COVID-19 deaths Trump supporters boo GOP Ohio governor at rally MORE (R) signed the law, which was pushed by Republican lawmakers in response to coronavirus restrictions, on Wednesday.

DeWine had not closed religious institutions during the pandemic, as other state leaders had, but in March he did encourage alternatives, calling in-person services a “huge mistake.” 

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DeWine also faced some criticism over his decision to postpone the state’s in-person primary in March over concerns about the coronavirus.

The new legislation states that “no public official shall cause an election to be conducted other than in the time, place, and manner prescribed by the Revised Code,” with only an exception in cases of enemy attack, Cleveland.com reported. 

The legislation will take effect in mid-December, according to the newspaper. 

DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney told the newspaper the governor agreed to sign the legislation that curbs his power to close houses of worship because he never contemplated taking such a step. Tierney said that going forward DeWine would not postpone an election the way he chose to in March, adding that state officials have a plan for potential spikes in coronavirus cases around voting times. 

“At that stage, remember, the pandemic was emerging in March, and the situation on the ground changed very rapidly and unexpectedly,” Tierney told the outlet. “That was certainly a unique situation."

“Moving forward, the virus will not have the element of surprise,” the spokesperson added.