Politics

Judge denies Ohio governor's push to postpone Tuesday's primary

Key Points
  • A judge in Ohio rejected a lawsuit, backed by Gov. Mike DeWine, to push to extend the state's presidential primary elections scheduled for Tuesday to June 2.
  • DeWine said he made the recommendation in following the guidance from public health officials who have cautioned against holding large public events amid the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said he supported the recommendation to do away with Tuesday's in-person voting, but added that the party was considering other ways of extending the election, including switching entirely to vote-by-mail with a "much earlier" deadline than June 2. 
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A judge in Ohio rejected a lawsuit, backed by Gov. Mike DeWine, to push to extend the state's presidential primary elections scheduled for Tuesday to June 2.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, Franklin County Judge Richard Frye said such a delay, 12 hours before voting was scheduled to begin, would set a "terrible precedent." Ohio polls are scheduled to open at 6:30 a.m. ET Tuesday.

DeWine said he made the recommendation following guidance from public health officials who have cautioned against holding large public events amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

DeWine, speaking at a press conference, said that he lacked the legal authority to suspend the election. He said he anticipated a lawsuit to be filed by citizens in Franklin County over the matter, and that it would be his recommendation to the court that in-person voting be canceled for Tuesday and held on June 2, with absentee ballots accepted until then. 

"I think when we look back on this, we are going to be glad we did this. The rights of voters are preserved," DeWine said. "Each voter will be given an ample opportunity to vote. The votes that have already been cast have been cast." 

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said he supported the recommendation to do away with Tuesday's in-person voting, but added that the party was considering other ways of extending the election, including switching entirely to vote-by-mail with a "much earlier" deadline than June 2. 

"This could better serve the interests of Ohio voters and the primary process that is already well underway, and we will consider offering those alternatives to the court once the case is filed," Pepper said in a statement. DeWine is a Republican. 

Ohio is one of four states scheduled to host presidential primaries on Tuesday, alongside Arizona, Illinois and Florida. In a statement issued later Monday, an Illinois State Board of Elections spokesperson said the state was "proceeding with plans for tomorrow's primary as scheduled." The other states have not announced plans to delay their contests. 

On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that events with 50 or more people taking place in the next two months should be rescheduled

"It is clear that tomorrow's in-person voting does not conform, and cannot conform, with these CDC guidelines," DeWine said. "We cannot conduct this election tomorrow — the in-person voting, for 13 hours tomorrow, and conform to these guidelines." 

Frank LaRose, the Ohio Secretary of State, said during the press conference that the state was moving forward with its plan to hold elections on Tuesday until the advice of public health officials shifted recently. 

"The advice of our public health officials has evolved with this public health emergency," LaRose said. "We know that it would not be safe, and there is only one thing in my mind more important than a fair and free election, and that is the health and safety of our fellow Ohioans." 

LaRose noted that "the power to suspend an election, the power to delay an election, is not one that we have."

"It rests with the legislature and with the courts. The decision that I made is to get recommendations ready anticipating that there would be a lawsuit as a result of this," LaRose said. 

LaRose said that Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost will not contest the lawsuit.

"We will be submitting to the court for their consideration our recommendation," he said. LaRose said that recommendation will be submitted Monday afternoon. 

There are 38 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ohio, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. There have been more than 4,000 cases in the U.S., including at least 71 deaths.