Coronavirus: Health director orders polls closed for primary election, citing emergency

State health chief, citing emergency, orders polls closed

A judge ruled against Gov. Mike DeWine’s recommendation to postpone the Ohio Primary because of concerns arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, but Election Day has been postponed indefinitely because of action taken by the state health director:

  • State health director Dr. Amy Acton issued the order closing polling places as a health emergency
  • DeWine: Ohioans can't consider Election Day legitimate in light of state health, CDC advisories
  • Judge's ruling triggers chaos at boards of elections in some counties

>> Coronavirus Pandemic: What you need to know Tuesday

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Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health director, issued her order closing the polls throughout Ohio on Tuesday, Election Day, “to avoid the imminent threat with a high probability of widespread exposure to COVID-19 with a significant risk of substantial harm to a large number of the people in the general population, including the elderly and people with weakened immune systems and chronic medical conditions.

“It is clear from history and experience that [a] large number of people gather at polling locations, which increases the risk of contracting COVID-19.

“To conduct an election at this time would force poll workers and voters to face an unacceptable risk of contracting COVID-19,” Acton said in her order released Monday night.

The order takes effect immediately, Dr. Acton said, and will remain in effect until the State of Emergency declared by Gov. DeWine no Ionger exists or until she rescinds or modifies the order.

About 10:14 p.m., DeWine announced the following: "During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at a unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus. "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."

Just after 9 p.m. DeWine and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued the following 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.

“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."

The judge’s ruling against Gov. Mike DeWine’s recommendation to postpone the Ohio Primary threw election planning for officials and poll workers into chaos.

Monday afternoon, DeWine had announced his intention to delay the Ohio Primary until June 2. In that news conference, he talked at length about how difficult a decision it was and that he fully understood the hardship of candidates who were waiting for Election Day.

If the election proceeds Tuesday, there were already expectations of a low turnout because of the coronavirus pandemic.

During the news conference,DeWine said, “It is clear that tomorrow’s in-person voting does not conform, and cannot conform, with these CDC guidelines.”

The governor said his office has received calls from many people across the state expressing concern about leaving their homes to vote.

“These individuals are conflicted, and it is not just those over 65,” DeWine said. “It is women who are pregnant, people who are compromised medically. We should not force them to make this choice, a choice between their health and their constitutional rights and their duties as American citizens.”

DeWine also said the process would require a lawsuit would have to be filed in common pleas court because the governor does not have the constitutional authority to postpone an election, except in times of war.

DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose worked together to get the legal approval to delay the election.

Just after 7 p.m., a Franklin County Common Pleas judge decided to rule against the governor and secretary of state. The judge said it’s up to the legislature to set election days, not the governor.

The conflicting information has left poll workers and voters unsure whether to go to polls Tuesday.

The administration is looking at any options for appeal.

By 8 p.m., county election officials were still trying to figure out what exactly would happen.

Officials with the Montgomery County Board of Elections told News Center 7 they are waiting for word from the secretary of state’s office and were expecting an appeal to the ruling yet tonight.

In Greene County, board of elections Director Llyn McCoy said her office was contacting poll workers to have them come in Tuesday.

“People will need to be patient,” she told News Center 7’s Sean Cudahy on Monday night. “We are scrambling.”

Some poll workers, she said, have canceled working the polls as many Greene County Board of Elections poll workers are age 70 and older.

In Lucas County on twitter, the “Lucas County Board of Elections is in receipt of the State Court Judge’s order and is aware that tomorrow’s election remains in question. It is NOT cancelled. We will update the media, our social media pages and the website as soon as more information is available.”

The Jefferson County Board of Elections in northeast Ohio tweeted, “After further review... the March 17th Primary is indeed back on. ... Very fluid situation tonight & we apologize for adding to any confusion.”

Several county boards of election had told workers and volunteers not to show up tomorrow. However, it appears both county and state election officials are scrambling Monday night to figure out plans and what to communicate to poll workers, staff and voters.

Stay with News Center 7 WHIO for the latest updates on the election.