COLUMBUS -- Ohio's primary election should be extended until June 2, Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday afternoon, over concerns over the spread of COVID-19.
The governor said in-person voting should take place June 2, though absentee voting would continue until then.
DeWine said he didn't have the legal authority to extend the election, though he recommended it to Secretary of State Frank LaRose.
The ultimate decision rests with the courts and the legislature, LaRose said.
The governor said many of those would be traveling to the polls on Tuesday are elderly, a population at the greatest risk of illness related to coronavirus.
"We cannot tell people that they really need to stay home if the risk is high and at the same time tell them to go vote," DeWine said. "People should not have to choose between their constitutional rights and their health."
LaRose, at the same press conference, said suspending in-person voting is a serious matter.
"We have tried to do everything we could to avoid that. The situation has evolved quickly over the past few days," LaRose said.
It was announced there are now 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Ohio, though there have been no deaths related to the illness.
The governor also announced additional closures at the end of business today -- fitness centers and gyms, bowling centers, movie theaters and indoor water parks and trampoline parks.
This is a developing story.
The state issued the following press release after Monday's 2 p.m. press conference:
Anticipating litigation, LaRose has prepared recommendations to offer to the court
Thanks to the leadership of Governor Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Ohio has led the nation in responding to the coronavirus crisis. Following their lead, Secretary LaRose has utilized their expert counsel and advice to execute every available option at his disposal to run a safe, secure, fair and healthy primary election. The county boards of elections and thousands of patriotic poll workers have worked tirelessly to prepare for election day and should be commended for their incredible dedication to civic duty.
Keeping Ohioans safe and voting accessible. Through March 15, guidance from the ODH indicated it would be safe to vote on election day. However, new information has led ODH to recommend Ohioans who are 65 and older to self-quarantine in their homes, making it challenging for these individuals to vote on March 17. In response, we expect a lawsuit that postpones the March 17 election and shifts it to a new day. Because the authority to shift election day does not reside with the Ohio Secretary of State, this change must be enacted by either a legal order or an act of the state legislature.
If ordered by the court, Secretary LaRose is prepared to implement an alternative to the March 17 election. The first presidential nominating convention is the Democratic National Convention beginning July 13. It’s essential to have enough time for Ohio to hold an election, certify the results, and allocate our delegates prior to that convention. If a judge were to order the primary election should not be held on March 17, Secretary LaRose is prepared to recommend moving election day to June 2. More details will be forthcoming.
All votes already submitted will count. It’s important that voters who have already submitted their vote by mail or in-person know that their vote will be counted.
OUTCOME: These are certainly unprecedented times, and Secretary LaRose has implemented the guidance of the Ohio Department of Health every step of the way. As this situation has evolved, we are once again following expert consultation in order to keep Ohioans safe. If ordered, by moving Ohio’s election day we can ensure Ohio voters have every opportunity to have their voice heard and stay healthy in the process.