CINCINNATI (CN) — Perhaps the strangest election in Ohio’s 217-year history concluded Tuesday night, as counties across the state submitted the results of a primary conducted almost entirely by mail-in ballots.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly all aspects of the American way of life, and elections in the Buckeye State were radically altered as safeguards against the virus took hold in early March.
Dr. Amy Acton, a licensed physician who leads the Ohio Department of Health, declared a health emergency and ordered polls closed on the eve of the March 17 primary, which caused statewide confusion and speculation that in-person voting would be delayed until June.
A week later, however, the Ohio Legislature passed House Bill 197, which canceled in-person voting and extended mail-in voting until April 28.
Although Ohio allows its citizens to vote early via absentee ballot with no restrictions, the 2020 Democratic primary marks the first time an election has been conducted entirely by mail.
Exceptions for the homeless and disabled individuals in HB 197 allowed them to vote in-person on Tuesday, but Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose urged all other voters to stay home.
“Voters, LaRose tweeted on April 24, “should not make it their plan to show up Tuesday unless they are homeless or disabled as provided for in law.”
LaRose’s office said more than 1.9 million Ohioans had requested mail-in ballots as of April 27, with more than 1.4 million of those ballots being completed and returned.
Ohio has more than 7.7 million registered voters.
The suspension of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in early April lessened the importance of Ohio in the scheme of the presidential primary, and former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner just 30 minutes after polls closed at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Voting did, however, solidify several U.S. congressional primaries races for November’s general election, although some results were delayed until after midnight.
In the 1st Congressional District, located in the southwest corner of the state, Kate Schroder beat out Nikki Foster to secure the Democratic nomination, going up against the incumbent Republican Congressman Steve Chabot in November.
Both Foster and Schroder based their campaigns on health care reform and infrastructure funding, specifically forging ahead with a replacement for the crumbling Brent Spence bridge that connects the state to Kentucky.
Schroder will undoubtedly be an underdog in November, as Chabot has held the seat since 1994, barring one two-year period from 2008–10.
Chabot faced stiff opposition in 2018 from Aftab Pureval, the current Hamilton County Clerk of Courts, but squeezed out a victory thanks in large part to the conservative base in Warren County, which lies just north of Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, in the state capital of Columbus, incumbent Democratic Congresswoman Joyce Beatty easily overcame challenger Morgan Harper to claim her spot on the ballot in Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District.
Harper, a 36-year-old Columbus native with ties to Trinidad, ran on a progressive platform of “bold policies” that included universal child care, guaranteed jobs and Medicare for All.
Profiled by Elle magazine in the runup to the election, Harper was unapologetic throughout her campaign in her desire to disrupt the Democratic establishment. Without taking any donations from political actio committees, Harper lost to the incumbent Beatty by more than a 2-to-1 margin.
Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics, had tweeted earlier on Tuesday that he would have been surprised to see Harper pull off the upset.
“I’d be surprised if she lost,” Kondik said of Beatty, “but, then again, any time an incumbent loses a primary, we should be surprised unless there was a compelling reason to suggest it. I think of Columbus as an establishment Dem town.”
In the nearby 12th Congressional District, two political newcomers fought for the chance to oust incumbent Republican Troy Balderson, who won the Republican primary to remain on the November ballot.
Balderson won the congressional seat with just 51% of the vote in 2018, and will face newcomer Alaina Shearer, a former radio journalist turned small-business owner from Delaware, Ohio.
Shearer beat out Jenny Bell, a nurse practitioner who ran on a campaign focused on health care reform and, like Harper in the 3rd District, accepted donations only from individuals.
Secretary of State LaRose had set a 10 p.m. deadline for counties to submit their results, but large quantities of ballots submitted to local boards of elections late in the day on Tuesday caused delays across the state.