ODH to Order Polls Closed Tuesday as Health Emergency
State officials took the extraordinary step late Monday night of prohibiting all Ohio polling locations from opening on Tuesday morning, saying that holding an election in the short term would put the lives of thousands of citizens at risk.
"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," the governor said in a statement released by his office. "As such, Health Director Dr. Amy Acton will order the polls closed as a health emergency. While the polls will be closed tomorrow, Secretary of State Frank LaRose will seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity."
The action was announced shortly after 10 pm, hours before polls were set to open at 6:30 am.
Earlier Monday, the governor and secretary of state were part of an effort to seek a court order to block the election and set June 2 as Ohio's primary election day, but that attempt was denied by Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Frye. (Complaint,TRO request)
Plaintiffs argued that voters and pollworkers would be risking their lives amid the spread of a deadly virus if the election went forward. That risk, they argued, violated voters' constitutional right to cast their ballots.
Judge Frye rejected the attempt, saying he was "very reluctant to undermine" Ohio law that set March 17 as the election day. He said taking such an action would set a "terrible precedent" for future elections.
Prior to the issuance of the order, the governor and secretary issued a joint statement.
"The only thing more important than a free and fair election is the health and safety of Ohioans. The Ohio Department of Health and the CDC have advised against anyone gathering in groups larger than 50 people, which will occur if the election goes forward," they said. "Additionally, Ohioans over 65 and those with certain health conditions have been advised to limit their nonessential contact with others, affecting their ability to vote or serve as poll workers. Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn't possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans. They mustn't be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional rights."