Ohio Democratic Party Fights Primary Date Change

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) – The Ohio Democratic Party filed a lawsuit in the state’s Supreme Court seeking to invalidate the delay of a primary election after concerns about the coronavirus led state officials to declare a public health emergency and close the polls Tuesday. 

The party, along with a registered voter, claimed in the suit filed in the state’s high court that Secretary of State Frank LaRose lacked the authority to set a new date for the state’s primary election, which was originally scheduled for March 17.

Voters in 2018 cast their ballots in Gates Mills, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Concerns over the spread of the coronavirus and the health of poll workers led to a scramble by Republican Governor Mike DeWine on Monday to close polls and reschedule the election.

DeWine first announced a lawsuit – to which he was not a party – that sought an injunction to delay the primary but that was rejected by a common pleas court judge.

Several hours later, just after 10 p.m. Eastern time, DeWine announced that Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton would declare a public health emergency and close the polls to limit the spread of the coronavirus among voters and poll workers.

The Ohio Supreme Court rejected a motion to revoke the declaration on Tuesday morning and polls were closed in Ohio, capping off a whirlwind 24-hour period.

In their suit, Ohio Democrats seek a writ of prohibition to cancel the reschedule, and claim LaRose “is patently and unambiguously without jurisdiction and legal authority to suspend, move, or set the date of Ohio’s 2020 presidential primary election.” 

Given that the originally scheduled date for the primary has come and gone, the party’s request for relief includes a directive that would allow the state’s boards of election to accept absentee ballots until April 25.

According to LaRose’s election plan, absentee ballots would be accepted until May 26, with in-person voting set to take place on June 2.

The lawsuit does not specify if or when in-person voting would take place.

President Donald Trump defended DeWine’s overall performance in the face of the coronavirus pandemic during a press conference on Tuesday but expressed doubts about the decision to delay the primary.

I just think an election is a very special thing,” Trump told reporters. “He’s going to choose he chose a different date … He felt it was necessary. The courts are – somebody is challenging it. So the courts will ultimately decide.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper criticized the governor’s decision in a statement about the lawsuit and urged the court system and legislature to act.

“Yesterday’s actions,” he said, “did not create unchecked authority with the governor or secretary of state to run a new election.

“So authority for a new election must come from the legislature or from a court. Today’s action seeks that court order, preserving the primary while also proposing a more workable window for the election to take place, along with multiple opportunities and a reasonable amount of time for voters to vote.”

The governor also mandated the closure of all restaurants and bars, and said his office is considering a directive that would require patients to postpone elective surgeries to prevent overcrowding in hospitals.

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