Ohio's health chief stops primary after lawsuit fails

A voter fills out his ballot, taking advantage of early voting, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Steubenville, Ohio. Elections officials in the four states, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio, holding presidential primaries next week say they have no plans to

Health Director Amy Acton declared a health emergency that would prevent the polls from opening out of fear of exposing voters and volunteer poll workers — many of them elderly — to the virus.

Posted: Mar 16, 2020 11:12 PM
Updated: Mar 17, 2020 10:20 AM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio called off its presidential primary just hours before polls were set to open there and in three other states, an 11th-hour decision the governor said was necessary to prevent further fueling the coronavirus pandemic that has paralyzed the nation.

Health Director Amy Acton declared a health emergency that would prevent the polls from opening out of fear of exposing voters and volunteer poll workers — many of them elderly — to the virus. Arizona, Florida and Illinois were proceeding with their presidential primaries.

DeWine failed to get a judge to halt the primary Monday evening, even though the governor contended the election results wouldn’t be viewed as legitimate in light of the pandemic.

“To conduct an election tomorrow would would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at a unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” he said.

It wasn’t clear what would happen, but DeWine said officials were considering how to give voters an opportunity to cast their ballots.

DeWine and Secretary of State Frank LaRose had supported a lawsuit by voters seeking a delay in the primary until June 2, in the hope that the outbreak subsides by then. Ohio Judge Richard Frye ruled against the motion Monday night, saying it was not his place and would set a terrible precedent.

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Officials in Arizona, Florida and Illinois felt they had done enough to ensure the safety of voters, even as concerns mounted that there will not be enough poll workers in some precincts and voters will be confused after polling places in nursing homes were moved to other locations.

Elsewhere, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana have postponed their scheduled primaries.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said late Monday the state believes the election can proceed safely. Arizona’s governor and secretary of state also said Monday they did not want to postpone the election.

In Illinois, elections board spokesman Matt Dietrich said in a statement that the state’s primary will move forward. 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.

That assurance did not appear to satisfy volunteer poll workers, many of whom are senior citizens and have decided to bail out on staffing their precincts.

Chicago election officials on Monday said they had received a “tsumani” of cancellations from planned poll workers, particularly those who are older and considered at a higher risk of facing serious health consequences if they contract the virus. They begged healthy people to volunteer to work at polling sites.

Marisel Hernandez, chair of the city’s election commission, said people can be sworn in to act as election judges at polling locations on Tuesday. She also asked people to be patient at the polls, warning that it’s possible for locations to open late or still be setting up as voters arrive early Tuesday morning.

“Please, please heed our call and volunteer,” she said. “Help us.”

Pressed on whether they have asked the governor to delay the state’s primary, Chicago elections commission spokesman Jim Allen said election officials statewide were in an impossible position.

“We are under orders to conduct an election, end of story, period,” Allen said. “If we say anything now to raise doubts, we stand accused of violating the law, undermining turnout and discouraging voters.

“This is the biggest test that any election jurisdiction has faced in the last hundred years, period,” Allen said.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

In Arizona, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said she will not make an effort to delay the election. She said she came to the decision in consultation with county election officials, health authorities and the Democratic Party.

“What it all comes down to is that we have no guarantee that there will be a safer time to hold this election in the future,” Hobbs said during a news conference in Phoenix alongside Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and other state officials.

Turnout at 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 that the states were pushing early voting and vote-by-mail even before the coronavirus outbreak, and fewer voters are expected to appear Tuesday at their neighborhood precinct.

Meanwhile, the states have been 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 with only the presidential race on the ballot in most Florida cities.

“We can do it in a way that protects people,” DeSantis said.

Broward County, Florida, is stocking its 421 polling locations with extra supplies, including 4,000 rolls of paper towels, gloves and more than 400 bars of soap.

The states have also been pushing early voting and voting by mail as a way to curtail any crowds at the polls. Chicago election officials say the effort paid off with 118,000 voters casting ballots in the mail in the city, which is an all-time record, according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1011197

Reported Deaths: 16524
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1359292129
Lake666181167
Allen58254802
Hamilton46498467
St. Joseph44559617
Elkhart36044510
Vanderburgh32333481
Tippecanoe28037260
Johnson25196446
Hendricks23960360
Porter22985367
Madison18820410
Clark18609253
Vigo17530303
Monroe15319200
LaPorte15230252
Delaware15127264
Howard14801290
Kosciusko12410149
Hancock11773176
Bartholomew11695180
Warrick11305189
Floyd11138215
Wayne11023253
Grant10131220
Morgan9506177
Boone8965116
Dubois8281131
Henry8252153
Dearborn823493
Noble8064106
Marshall7981135
Cass7556123
Lawrence7479172
Shelby7216119
Jackson700990
Gibson6614115
Harrison651892
Huntington6447100
Knox6427106
DeKalb6363100
Montgomery6293112
Miami595298
Putnam584179
Clinton579271
Whitley568455
Steuben566876
Wabash5363104
Jasper536180
Jefferson513297
Ripley501987
Adams483777
Daviess4684115
Scott439875
Greene427296
Clay426960
Wells426088
White420964
Decatur4177104
Fayette407387
Jennings390262
Posey377544
LaGrange361778
Washington360451
Randolph3476100
Spencer340743
Fountain336160
Sullivan330852
Starke319171
Owen315571
Fulton313468
Orange295064
Jay285546
Franklin266443
Perry265752
Rush263832
Carroll262434
Vermillion259854
Parke232029
Pike229643
Tipton229059
Blackford195042
Pulaski184657
Crawford160125
Newton159848
Benton151217
Brown147047
Martin139319
Switzerland135311
Warren121416
Union107216
Ohio84613
Unassigned0544

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1524169

Reported Deaths: 23955
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1646591696
Cuyahoga1468932459
Hamilton1056051431
Montgomery742551279
Summit620221111
Lucas56539917
Butler51696718
Stark468601064
Lorain35783585
Warren32903377
Mahoning30927693
Clermont28271330
Lake27179448
Delaware24263164
Licking24027294
Trumbull22993561
Fairfield22438247
Greene22414326
Medina22149313
Clark19920354
Richland18643292
Portage18073252
Wood17505224
Allen16054279
Miami15627306
Muskingum14890185
Columbiana14153274
Wayne13852271
Tuscarawas12777311
Marion12016180
Scioto11497162
Pickaway11386142
Erie10951184
Ross10614203
Ashtabula9809204
Lawrence9783153
Hancock9741155
Belmont9333209
Geauga9008157
Jefferson8600199
Huron8427143
Union822259
Washington8114144
Sandusky7875151
Athens779579
Knox7766144
Darke7695158
Seneca7405145
Ashland6993130
Auglaize681799
Shelby6540115
Brown640091
Crawford6292130
Defiance6241105
Mercer617893
Fulton605196
Highland602899
Guernsey596371
Madison595678
Logan594596
Clinton585193
Preble5730125
Putnam5354110
Williams530888
Perry519863
Champaign514273
Jackson512473
Ottawa490586
Coshocton488383
Morrow460558
Pike435067
Fayette430363
Hardin420780
Gallia419367
Adams417995
Van Wert374082
Henry366972
Holmes3653125
Hocking357582
Wyandot325262
Carroll304365
Paulding280747
Meigs267251
Monroe216254
Noble201247
Morgan194333
Harrison182646
Vinton167225
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
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Angola
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Decatur
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Van Wert
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After a frosty start to the day, temperatures warm into the middle 50s under a mixture of clouds and sun.
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