DeWine tweeted late Monday that conducting the election on Tuesday, another key Democratic contest between former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), “would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus.” DeWine said Amy Acton, the state’s health director, ordered the polls closed on Monday. As of early Tuesday, there have been 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus and no reported deaths in Ohio.
In a video statement posted to Twitter early Tuesday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that the election had been postponed in what was a “difficult but necessary decision.” He confirmed that he sent out a directive to the state’s 88 boards of election outlining how Ohio would comply with DeWine’s order for in-person voting on June 2, as well as allow voters to cast their ballots between now and early June.
As The Washington Post reported, DeWine acted after a judge rejected his effort to have the polls closed, saying that the governor’s push to reschedule the election would “set a terrible precedent.” The decision from DeWine has led to criticism and increased uncertainty for how the state will proceed.
It’s rare for a governor to delay an election. Nearly two decades ago, New York Gov. George E. Pataki (R) issued executive orders canceling all of the Republican and Democratic primaries throughout the state on 9/11. In that instance, the polls had been open for less than three hours before the attack on the World Trade Center, and Pataki said that the primaries could “prevent, hinder or delay action necessary to cope with the disaster.”
While some praised DeWine for putting safety ahead of an election, others online decried the governor’s order as voter suppression and “an absolute tragedy of democracy.”
“Treating court orders as options would be the beginning of the end,” wrote Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe. “Ohio mustn’t become the graveyard for the rule of law.”
Tribe’s sentiment was echoed by voting advocates nationwide, including Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Clarke wrote that she was “ASTOUNDED” by the cryptic messaging DeWine had put out beforehand. In the hours before he announced his order to close the polls, DeWine had suggested in earlier tweets that the election would move forward.
“I’ve never seen this level of sheer chaos in an election,” Clarke tweeted. “Voters in Ohio are the ones who lose out.”
Before DeWine’s announcement, David Donofrio, a poll worker in Franklin County, wrote how he was ready to open up his polling location in Lincoln Village, about 10 miles east of Columbus, on Tuesday morning. That outlook dampened with the governor’s update.
“Confusing voters is voter suppression. Period,” he tweeted.
Ohio residents agreed that DeWine’s response set “an extremely dangerous precedent.” Matt Keller, lead pastor at CrossPointe Church in Westerville, about 16 miles north of Columbus, couldn’t help but feel that DeWine had stepped out of bounds in allowing Acton to help decide the fate of Tuesday’s primary.
“I don’t understand how an unelected official can overrule a judge and cancel a lawfully scheduled election,” he tweeted, referring to Acton. “Someone please help me see how this is possible.”
An absolute tragedy of democracy. Last-minute decisions, misreporting by the media, and the apparent disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of voters, and we STILL don’t know what if the election is *technically* tomorrow? Horrendous.#OhioPrimary https://t.co/o6Mynu6WeE— Kenny Larson (@thechicagokenny) March 17, 2020
I understand the arguments for closing polls. But I strongly oppose the tactics DeWine is using for the #OhioPrimary. We must never allow our elected representatives to impinge upon our constitutional rights in a haphazard manner. We are on a slippery slope, folks. #LetOhioVote— Dr K (socially distant/emotionally close) #DemCast (@DocKimResists) March 17, 2020
So, it's okay to go to a grocery store or pharmacy, it's okay to pick up takeout or get gas, it's even okay to appear in gatherings of 50 or less, but it's suddenly not okay to go out and vote? Someone explain this one to me, please. I'll wait. #OhioPrimary #Ohio #OhioVotes #bs— Paula Margulies (@PaulaMargulies) March 17, 2020
Others agreed with DeWine that the potential health hazard of people going to the polls justified his decision to postpone. One of those was Alaina Shearer, a Democrat on the ballot in a House primary, who was live-tweeting the latest in the uncertain election.
“Be safe. Stay in. And let’s hope for a reasonable and fair solution tomorrow to ensure all voters have unfettered access to casting a ballot in a timely manner,” Shearer wrote Monday. “We’ve got this, Ohio.”