Ohio plans to delay primary, but 3 states still planned
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio's governor wants the state to delay in-person voting for the state's Tuesday presidential primary for three months to let the coronavirus outbreak subside, but Florida, Illinois and Arizona plan to push ahead.
Gov. Mike DeWine told a news conference Monday that he does not have the power to order the change, but some affected voters filed a lawsuit asking a judge to order it given the danger they would face if they went the polls. DeWine wants the new in-person date set for June 2.
“We should not force them to make that choice,” DeWine said. Absentee balloting would continue during the interim. Georgia already postponed next week's primary, and Louisiana has postponed its scheduled April 4 primary.
But Florida, Illinois and Arizona's governors' offices said Monday morning they were pushing forward with Tuesday's voting, even though they are losing polling sites and workers. Florida Ron DeSantis said late Monday the state believes the election can proceed safely. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has a press conference planned, although there remains no indication he plans to delay voting.
In Illinois, elections board spokesman Matt Dietrich said in a statement late Monday that the state's primary will move forward, even with Ohio's decision. He said Gov. J.B. Pritzker does not have the power to order the date moved and does not intend to ask a court to do so.
“We believe that by following guidance from our state and federal health professionals, voters can vote safely,” Dietrich said.
Catherine Turcer, director of Common Cause Ohio, praised DeWine's decision.
“There’s been a lot of running around and trying to make changes and coming up with solutions and none of them quite worked to keep everyone safe,” she said. “You need to really think outside the box and moving the election is really thinking outside the box.”
But Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, said Ohio could have avoided the delay by extending the deadline to postmark mail-in ballots from Monday to Tuesday.
Now, she said, pushing off the election raises some new concerns. “It’s a last-minute decision. It’s chaotic,” she said. “There is the need to provide full and adequate information to voters regarding the new date.”
Turnout at the polling places is already expected to be light Tuesday as only the Democrats have a contested presidential primary and that is down to two contenders: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Add in that the states were pushing early voting and vote-by-mail even before the outbreak and many fewer voters are expected to appear Tuesday at their neighborhood precinct.
The states are taking steps to limit voter and poll worker exposure to the coronavirus.
In Florida and Arizona, the states moved polling places located in nursing homes and assisted living facilities to avoid exposing the residents to outsiders. For some counties like Volusia, Florida, and Maricopa, Arizona — by far that state's largest — that became a benefit. The counties combined those polling places with others nearby, meaning they needed fewer workers.
DeSantis said he is allowing the Florida election to proceed unabated because “there is no need to panic” and can be done safely. He said most voters will only be in the polling place for a few minutes as in most Florida cities there is only the presidential race on the ballot.