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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: 764448

Reported Deaths: 13965
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1049701803
Lake567981029
Allen42685698
St. Joseph37253568
Hamilton37131426
Elkhart29699470
Tippecanoe23347230
Vanderburgh23106404
Porter19538327
Johnson18755391
Hendricks18012321
Madison13463345
Clark13450198
Vigo12789255
LaPorte12533224
Monroe12494178
Delaware11100198
Howard10612237
Kosciusko9736123
Hancock8707149
Bartholomew8235157
Warrick8031157
Floyd7975181
Grant7337181
Wayne7222201
Boone7145105
Morgan6886142
Marshall6323116
Dubois6267118
Cass6083111
Dearborn598578
Noble595790
Henry5939111
Jackson514677
Shelby509097
Lawrence4901127
Gibson460696
Montgomery454492
Clinton453555
DeKalb451585
Harrison450576
Whitley414745
Huntington411781
Steuben409560
Miami404073
Jasper399455
Knox387091
Putnam383762
Wabash367383
Adams351656
Ripley350471
Jefferson340486
White338954
Daviess3084100
Wells302281
Greene292285
Decatur291493
Fayette285864
Posey280435
Scott278058
LaGrange276972
Clay273048
Washington252437
Randolph247083
Jennings238149
Spencer237531
Fountain233750
Starke229859
Owen221059
Sullivan219043
Fulton207645
Jay202832
Carroll196522
Orange190556
Perry189139
Vermillion179644
Rush177027
Franklin171635
Tipton171547
Parke153616
Pike141234
Blackford137832
Pulaski122948
Newton122436
Benton109215
Brown105743
Crawford105116
Martin92515
Warren87615
Switzerland8308
Union73510
Ohio58211
Unassigned0428

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1120922

Reported Deaths: 20467
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1300711493
Cuyahoga1169882259
Hamilton822191259
Montgomery533351059
Summit487911014
Lucas43688832
Butler39879614
Stark33752937
Lorain25937509
Warren24850312
Mahoning22663612
Lake21429396
Clermont20338260
Delaware19088138
Licking16820227
Trumbull16744491
Fairfield16735207
Medina15800276
Greene15468254
Clark14325308
Portage13391218
Wood13327201
Allen12026245
Richland11707213
Miami10976228
Wayne9238227
Columbiana9182236
Muskingum9114137
Pickaway8729123
Tuscarawas8706254
Marion8691140
Erie8109166
Ashtabula7264179
Hancock7039134
Ross7004165
Geauga6939153
Scioto6636108
Belmont6203179
Lawrence5905104
Union590049
Jefferson5718162
Huron5622122
Sandusky5467130
Darke5436130
Seneca5373128
Washington5352111
Athens526260
Auglaize506787
Mercer490285
Shelby480497
Knox4603112
Madison446966
Ashland441898
Defiance438099
Fulton435275
Putnam4349104
Crawford4103111
Brown408862
Preble3940107
Logan391479
Clinton387966
Ottawa374981
Highland364668
Williams355478
Champaign347560
Guernsey329554
Jackson321154
Perry298050
Morrow294543
Fayette287950
Hardin278865
Henry276967
Holmes2725102
Coshocton272461
Van Wert251465
Gallia248450
Adams247758
Pike244537
Wyandot235257
Hocking221763
Carroll200349
Paulding179342
Meigs150740
Noble137639
Monroe137445
Harrison115038
Morgan111524
Vinton87117
Unassigned03
Fort Wayne
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Feels Like: 92°
Angola
Partly Cloudy
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Hi: 86° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 93°
Huntington
Clear
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Hi: 85° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 89°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
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Hi: 86° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 92°
Van Wert
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Showers and storms are possible early Sunday morning, but we'll be dry by sunrise. Partly sunny skies and hot conditions are expected for the second half of the weekend.
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