Ohio leaders recommend delaying Tuesday primary to June 2

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The results of Ohio’s primary election, which had been scheduled for Tuesday and includes a presidential race and battles for congressional and state legislative nominations, might not be decided until after polls close June 2.

The governor and elections chief on Monday recommended postponing in-person voting as the number of cases of COVID-19 across the state rises.

Gov. Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, both Republicans, said at a news conference that a lawsuit would be filed to postpone in-person voting until June 2. The two officials do not have the power to postpone an election on their own.

If they get a court order to delay in-person voting, they said, absentee voting will continue until June. Questions have been raised about the impact on turnout, but DeWine said he didn’t want older voters to face the choice of staying home, as recommended, or going out to vote.

“We should not force them to make this choice, the choice between their health and their constitutional rights and their duties as American citizens,” DeWine said.

Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden, the former vice president, and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont are competing for 136 delegates in Ohio, which also has primaries in congressional and and state legislative races, as well as local-issue votes to be decided.

The recommendation likely means polling places will not open Tuesday, despite LaRose’s assurances as recently as Monday morning that voting was ready to go forward.

“”Suspending in-person voting is a serious matter and we have tried to do everything we could to avoid that”” LaRose said Tuesday. State officials said they had been getting calls from concerned voters and poll workers.

A Democratic candidate in a contested congressional primary expressed support for the move, saying by email that public health must come first.

“As a candidate, changing the date of the election is an unexpected challenge, but it is nothing compared to the importance of community safety and minimizing lives lost,” said Kate Schroder, who is seeking the nomination to challenge 12-term Republican Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio’s 1st Congressional District, in the Cincinnati area. “I wholeheartedly support Governor DeWine’s recommendation.”

Louisiana and Georgia earlier postponed presidential primaries scheduled for March.

LaRose’s office had reported that roughly 140 polling places in nursing homes or residential care facilities successfully had been relocated and that a recruiting effort had netted more than 1,500 last-minute poll workers.

Voting rights advocates had raised issues that the earlier steps weren’t enough.

“As a result of last-minute polling location changes and fears around contracting the coronavirus, an increased number of voters were in need of absentee ballots on very short notice,” representatives of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the civil rights group Demos, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law wrote in a letter to LaRose on Sunday.

The groups said short staffing at county boards, slow postal delivery times and the number of steps needed for a voter to request an absentee ballot were making it “all but impossible” for voters to meet the absentee ballot deadline. Absentee ballot voting has been underway for a month.

They reported that 2,603 combined absentee ballots were requested from Montgomery, Summit and Lucas counties, three of the state’s largest, and only 29 had been returned and designated countable.

A Democrat who is exploring a run for governor in 2022 disagreed with efforts to delay the primary, saying although he believed DeWine was acting for public health, he is concerned about calling off scheduled voting with so little notice.

“I worry that the precedent could haunt future elections by people who are not motivated by the same public good,” Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley said in an email. “I also believe that there is no reason to assume that June 2nd in-person voting won’to be delayed.”

He also urged that absentee ballots be mailed out by LaRose’s office.