Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced Monday night that he ordered his state’s health director to keep the polls closed Tuesday “as a public health emergency” out of fears of spreading the Wuhan virus.
DeWine’s decision comes shortly after a judge in Franklin County, Ohio, home to the state capitol of Columbus, declined DeWine’s request to postpone the state’s primary elections over the virus pandemic.
Common Pleas Court Judge Richard Frye ruled Monday that it would set “terrible precedent” to change the date of the elections with 12 hours before voting is slated to begin, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
“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 an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” DeWine said in a statement. “As such, Health Director Dr. Amy Acton will order the polls closed as a health emergency. While the polls will be closed tomorrow, Secretary of State Frank LaRose will seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity.”
DeWine and State Secretary of State Frank LaRose requested the election day change on Monday, worrying that proceeding as planned would accelerate the spread of the Wuhan virus. The state has already shut down the state’s schools and restaurants.
Poll workers had initially been told not to show up to their assigned stations for voting to begin at 6:30 a.m. at the governor’s request but the judge’s ruling had revoked those orders, the Dispatch reported. After DeWine’s announcement following the judge’s ruling, however, those orders to stay home are back on.
DeWine told Fox News Monday night before the judge had made his decision that the governor’s decision was made in part by President Donald Trump’s request to restrict gatherings to 50 people or fewer.
“We cannot conduct an election with 50 or ten [voters] and we are hearing from a lot of people — all over the age of 65, [or] women who are pregnant, people with compromised health…. telling us, ‘Look, this is a tough choice,'” DeWine said on “The Story” with Martha MacCallum. “‘On one hand we’re being told to stay home and take care of ourselves, and yet we want to exercise our constitutional rights.’ And so that was something that we wanted to enable people to be able to do both.”
Three other states will also hold primary contests Tuesdaym including Arizona, Illinois, and Florida. In a Monday press conference, Trump said postponing elections over the virus would be “unnecessary” but said it was ultimately up to the states.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the last remaining competitive challenger in the Democratic primary against former Vice President Joe Biden, said states should be postponing their elections to allow older Americans to vote without fear of contracting the virus, which is a higher risk to their health.
“I would hope governors listen to the public health experts and what they are saying is… we don’t want gatherings of more than 50 people,” Sanders told The New York Times in a post-debate interview Sunday night. “I’m thinking about some of the elderly people sitting behind the desks, registering people, all that stuff. It does not make a lot of sense. I’m not sure that it does.”