Ohio Cancels In-Person Voting but Extends Mail-In Balloting

A bowl of stickers for those taking advantage of early voting on March 15, 2020, in Steubenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — The Ohio Legislature voted Wednesday to cancel in-person voting for the 2020 primary election, instead choosing to extend mail-in balloting until April 28.

House Bill 197 was passed with limited floor debate after both the House and Senate adopted special voting procedures to account for social distancing. Desks were spaced out, and legislators were given staggered times to be in the chamber, which limited the amount of people in the space at any one time.

Casual dress was encouraged because they claimed those clothes were more cleaned frequently. House Speaker Larry Householder, a Republican from Perry County, said that all members had their temperature taken with a forehead thermometer prior to entering the floor.

The bipartisan passing of the bill comes a week after concerns over the spread of coronavirus caused Republican Governor Mike DeWine to close the polls the night before the election after a lawsuit seeking an injunction to postpone the election was rejected by a common pleas court judge.

Several hours later, just after 10 p.m. Eastern time on the night before the election, DeWine announced that Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health, would declare a public health emergency and close the polls in an attempt to limit the spread of the coronavirus at polling places.

The morning of the primary election, The Ohio Supreme Court rejected a motion to revoke the declaration and the polls were closed for voting.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose postponed the election day until June 2.

The Ohio Democratic Party then filed a lawsuit in the state’s Supreme Court seeking to invalidate the delay, claiming that Secretary of State LaRose was “ “patently and unambiguously without jurisdiction and legal authority to suspend, move, or set the date of Ohio’s 2020 presidential primary election.”

The crisis created in the state by the coronavirus brought Republicans and Democrats together for passage of House Bill 197. The details were worked out in advance with leaders from both parties and the governor.

Lawmakers agreed that the late date of the election would cause problems with schools and local districts with levies on the March ballot. It also allows enough time to choose delegates for the presidential nominating convention.

The bill also addresses a number of critical issues the state faces as a result of the coronavirus beyond the election. Temporary changes for Ohio schools, extension of the state tax deadline and granting newly graduated nursing students temporary certificates of practice were among the many issues approved in this bill.

State Sen. Matt Huffman, a Republican from Lima, disagreed with assertions that the election was being moved from June to April.

“We’re merely allowing additional voting for the March 17 election,” he said.

Householder agreed. “We didn’t postpone the primary, we extended the voting from March 17.”

In a press release, Governor DeWine praised the bill and the effort that went into ensuring its swift passage.

“This bill will ensure continuity of the government, extended mail-in voting for our primary, clarity for schools and students, relief to workers impacted by Covid-19, and measures to make sure Ohioans get back to work with this pandemic subsides. I applaud the collaborative work on this bill and look forward to signing it soon.”

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