Ohio Health Director Declares Emergency, Orders Polls Closed

(CN) — Ohio Republican Governor Mike DeWine announced late Monday night that no in-person voting will take place in Tuesday’s primary, following the declaration of a health emergency by Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

The drastic decision to close the polls was made after a common pleas court judge denied an injunction request made by a class of voters who sued Secretary of State Frank LaRose late Monday afternoon.

A voter fills out his ballot Sunday, taking advantage of early voting, in Steubenville, Ohio. Elections officials in the four states, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, holding presidential primaries next week say they have no plans to postpone voting amid widespread disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, they are taking extraordinary steps to ensure that voters can cast ballots and polling places are clean. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

DeWine announced the suit in a press conference earlier in the day, and said it was necessary because of the state’s inability to comply with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and move forward with in-person voting on Tuesday, and also said he wants to ensure the safety of poll workers.

“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 a unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” DeWine said in a press release regarding the poll closures.

The release went on to say that LaRose will continue to navigate the state’s court system “to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity.”

The unsuccessful lawsuit said citizens over the age of 65 have been advised by the state to “self-quarantine,” on the heels of DeWine’s decision to declare a state of emergency and prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people.

Some local governments passed even more restrictive measures, including Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, who signed an order that prohibits individuals in public spaces from coming within six feet of each other.

The confluence of events proved too daunting for DeWine to allow citizens to risk exposure to the coronavirus at the polls.

Speaking at the afternoon press conference, Acton said the state has 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” Acton told reporters. “The whole country is moving today … everyone is sort of moving full-court press.”

“Timing is everything,” she added.

DeWine also mandated that places like gyms and movie theaters close by the end of the business day Monday.

Neither DeWine nor Secretary of State Frank LaRose had the power to push back elections on their own, and although LaRose had said as early as Monday morning that voting would continue as normal, the medical emergency declaration gave the state a means to close its polls on the eve of the primary.

In his decision earlier in the day, Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye ruled from the bench that stalling the election was outside the realm of his authority.

“There are too many factors to balance in this unchartered territory to say that we ought to take this away from the Legislature and elected statewide officials, and throw it to a common pleas court judge in Columbus 12 hours before the election,” he said in denying the request.

Louisiana and Georgia have also postponed their primaries that were set for this month as the virus continues to spread across the country. A Johns Hopkins University tracker shows there are more than 4,300 confirmed cases in the U.S., as the death toll climbed to 77.

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