The status of Ohio’s elections were up in the air for much of the day Monday, leaving some voters wondering whether or not voting would occur as scheduled Tuesday.
Since then, the state of Ohio’s primaries are still somewhat unclear. For much of the latter half of the primary election eve, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Franklin County courts debated over whether to postpone voting due to the outbreak of the COVID-19, or coronavirus, pandemic.
In the end, DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, the director of the Ohio Department of Health prevailed, suspended the election until Tuesday, June 2.
Athens County Board of Elections Director Debbie Quivey and much of her staff had just finished wrapping up what they believed was the final day of preparation Monday afternoon when the news broke.
“(Acton) had the right to stop the election from happening today because there was a chance of there being more than 50 people gathering at a time, and she saw it as a health hazard,” Quivey said. “When you look at it from that point, I think the right decision was made ... I just think it should’ve been done earlier.”
Quivey, her staff and all boards of elections in Ohio received a directive from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose outlining the suspension of the March 17 primary election and what should be done between now and June 2.
The directive told all board of elections to post notices on their websites, social media and outside offices and polling locations, notifying voters of the suspension.
It also asks all offices to remain open to receive absentee ballots and ballot requests on March 17 but orders them not to tabulate or report any election results.
“(Acton and DeWine’s) difficult but necessary decision will protect the health and well-being of Ohioans,” LaRose said in the directive.
While the election day has moved, voter registration will not reopen because the deadline passed on Feb. 18. In-person absentee voting, or early voting, will not continue, but voters can still request an absentee ballot application to submit through the mail. These applications must be postmarked by May 26.
All absentee ballots must be postmarked by June 1 and must be received by June 12, according to the directive from LaRose.
One of Quivey’s biggest concerns over the elections being suspended is that like the poll workers and much of her own staff, many voters would be confused by the back and forth on whether Ohio’s elections were to be suspended.
The Ohio House of Representatives is also moving to address the suspension and postponement of election day. Speaker of the House Larry Householder, a Republican, attempted to call in other members for an unscheduled session to address this but chose to leave it until next week when the assembly meets on March 24.
“No Ohio voter should ever wonder when they have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” Householder said in a memo.
Householder said he is working with Democratic Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes to organize members from both parties to address it. He said the power to adopt, change or extend the date of an election rests with the general assembly.
Rebecca Onion, an Athens resident, said she was keeping an eye on social media as the news kept breaking about the fate of election day. She didn’t know the final decision until she woke up the next morning and saw Acton’s final order.
“There was so much confusion and weirdness around it … I just think it’d be better to wait and see,” Onion said. “Hopefully people who are interested in voting caught the wave and they know what to do.”
Onion said she is unsure whether or not she will order an absentee ballot or just wait until June 2 to vote. She said voting absentee could make it easier on her since she also has a 3-year-old to care for outside of her job.
With concerns over the virus and confusion about the election, Ohio could see a record drop in voter turnout. According to the Ohio secretary of state’s website, the lowest turnout in a presidential primary election since 1986 was in 2012 at 25.52%.
Quivey said she is unable to speculate on voter turnout but said her office has received a higher volume of requests for absentee ballots.
As Ohio’s response virus outbreak intensifies, the Athens County Board of Elections has stepped up its efforts to sanitize everything in the office during early voting hours prior to March 17. Quivey said they normally sanitize and clean voting stations and provide hand sanitizer, but the virus has forced them to be more intense.
“We went to extremes on this. We continuously wiped everything down. We continuously sprayed our counters, and we had went to extremes with this because we wanted to make sure it was safe as possible for our voters,” Quivey said.