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Ohio Orders Polls Closed in Tomorrow’s Dem Primary Due to ‘Health Emergency’

On the eve of its Democratic primary, Ohio abruptly postponed the in-person portion of the vote set for Tuesday, March 17, after the state’s public health director, Dr. Amy Acton, issued a “health emergency” related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The stunning announcement late on Monday night, roughly eight hours before voting was due to begin, came after a whirlwind series of events, in which Ohio Governor Mike DeWine publicly expressed serious misgivings about in-person voting in the midst of a nationwide social distancing campaign to stop the spread of COVID-19. DeWine, along with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose had also joined an 11th-hour lawsuit that sought to stop the in-person primary and reschedule it for June 2, but a judge ruled against that suit earlier on Monday evening.

This legal defeat led DeWine and LaRose to issue an extraordinary joint statement, which sowed more confusion when it effectively said the primary’s results would be illegitimate if the in-person vote actually took place.

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.

Roughly an hour later, Acton issued her decree.

In a sign of how quickly events were moving, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had just done a segment on the debate over whether or not the Ohio primary would take place minutes before. Noting that other states with later primary dates, like Louisiana, Georgia, and Kentucky, had announced postponements of their votes, Maddow detailed how DeWine has been pushing for a similar delay.

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“Upon seeing that, the Ohio governor, who has been aggressive in trying to fight the coronavirus epidemic, announced that he would try to postpone in person voting tomorrow to take place instead in June,” Maddow noted. “The governor said quote ‘We cannot tell people to stay inside but also tell them to go out and vote.’ The Ohio governor said he did not believe there was anyway to stay within CDC guidelines for how to deal with the pandemic while also holding in person voting in Ohio tomorrow. Now that said, the governor in Ohio doesn’t have the power to delay elections on his own. What he did instead, was he supported a lawsuit that was filed by some people vulnerable to the virus who had opposed the plan for tomorrow’s primary. An Ohio judge rejected the proposal despite the urgency the governor made that case so at least, we think right now, that Ohio’s primary election is going to go ahead tomorrow alongside Illinois and Florida and Arizona.”

Acton’s public health decree appeared to offer DeWine an alternative way to delay the vote, rendering moot Maddow’s best guess about what would happen with the primary. But the last-minute nature of the announcement will likely mean that many Ohioans will not be aware that the vote has been put off, leading to more chaos than certainty.

Watch the video above, via MSNBC.

 

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