COLUMBUS, Ohio — A Franklin County judge Monday night denied the state’s attempt to postpone Election Day until June 2.
Common Please Court Judge Richard Frye said it would be a “terrible precedent” for a judge to step in 12 hours before polls open to rewrite the election code.
Fewer than 12 hours ahead of that scheduled opening of Ohio polls, the judge rejected the request — throwing elections workers across Ohio into confusion.
Polls would not have opened as scheduled at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday following a recommendation from Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose that Election Day be delayed until June 2 because of COVID-19 fears.
But for the moment, the primary is back on — despite reports that many poll workers already had been told not to come in Tuesday.
In a further complication, a candidate in a contested Republican primary for Wood County Common Pleas Court filed an action in the Ohio Supreme Court alleging the delay of the primary violated election laws.
Corey Speweik of Bowling Green filed the case against the Wood County Board of Elections and LaRose, arguing a “judical fiat” could not change the election date. His lawyer, Andy Mayle, condemned the late decision: “We think they waited on purpose until the 11th hour.”
The high court had not acted on his request as of early evening, and it was not clear whether they would.
Former Ohio Department of Aging Director Judith Brachman is one of the plaintiffs in the Franklin County lawsuit. Brachman, 81, told The Dispatch that she wanted to ensure that elderly voters didn’t have to make a choice between their health and voting.
“I’m concerned about other older adults. I don’t want others to have a problem based on their wanting to go vote and potentially getting exposed to something,” said Brachman, who worked with DeWine when he was lieutenant governor under Gov. George V. Voinovich.
The other plaintiff, Jill Reardon, said in an affidavit: “I was recently treated for pancreatic cancer and had a reoccurrence of renal cell carcinoma. I also suffer from severe immune deficiency. I have not yet voted in Ohio’s primary election. I should not be forced to make the choice between my health and my constitutional right to vote in the election. If the primary election is held on March 17, 2020 I will have to make that choice.”
The state will not oppose the request for a court order delaying the election.
During an afternoon press conference Monday, LaRose said, “We know that it would not be safe” to hold a primary election Tuesday.
DeWine added, “I think when we look back on this, we’re going to be glad we did this. The rights of voters will be preserved.”
What about the other three states apparently still holding their primary votes Tuesday? “Every governor is doing the best he or she can,” DeWine said.
Ohio officials were ceding to calls from voting rights advocates and others who were emphasizing the rapidly changing guidance from public health officials.
Mail-in absentee voting now is to continue until the new Election Day. June 2 was chosen for the new date because it is the latest date that the state could choose delegates for the Democratic National Convention in July, LaRose said.
DeWine said, “Is it a perfect decision? Absolutely not. But we believe it’s the best of bad alternatives. And it does preserve people’s constitutional rights and does not require them to choose between their health and their constitutional right.”
“Suspending in-person voting is a serious matter,” LaRose said. “We have tried to do everything we could to avoid that. All along we have taken our advice from the public health professionals. Obviously this situation has evolved quickly over the last few days.”
Michelle Wilcox, president of the Ohio Association of Elections Officials, said in a statement, “Just like every Ohioan, election administrators have been adjusting to the ever-changing news out of Columbus. While we were prepared to run a successful election tomorrow, events beyond our control have dictated that this will not happen.”
The Ohio and national League of Women Voters praised the decision: “It is imperative that voters feel safe when participating in our elections, and now is the time to assure voters that they can cast their ballots safely and with confidence.”
Many local elections officials understood the move but still were taken aback.
“I was very surprised; I did not expect this whatsoever. It was my understanding that precautions were being made and the elections would proceed as scheduled, so this was a shock to me and my office as much as anyone else,” said Athens County Elections Director Debbie Quivey.
Ohio GOP Chairwoman Jane Timken said in a statement, “We fully support this recommendation, while knowing how difficult this will be on our candidates and their campaigns.”
Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said: “In deference to their expertise on this critical health crisis, I support that decision regarding in-person voting.”
But Pepper said he wants Ohio to explore holding the primary entirely by mail with a deadline much earlier than June 2, so that polling places don’t have to open at all, given that the virus may still be active.
Read more about this story later today on LimaOhio.com and in Tuesday’s The Lima News.