COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio has set a new, almost exclusively mail-in primary election for April 28 due to the coronavirus, ignoring the timing recommendations of the state elections chief and some voting-rights groups.
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed a sweeping relief bill containing the change Friday, though he also had advocated for a different outcome.
“Look, people have a month,” the governor said Friday, expressing disappointment a longer window wasn’t provided. “We just encourage people to go ahead and fill out the application, send it in, get their ballot and go ahead and vote.”
Under the new scenario, the standard in-person primary is off and registered voters who haven’t yet cast a ballot will need to apply for an absentee ballot to vote. They can do that by printing an application form off the internet, calling their county elections board to request one or writing the necessary information on a piece of paper. Requests must be received at the board by noon on April 25, except in cases of unforeseen hospitalizations.
Once a ballot is received and completed, it must be postmarked by April 27, or it can be directly delivered to the voter’s county election board on Election Day. Only those voters with disabilities or those without home mailing addresses will be allowed to vote in person April 28.
Ohio’s top health official ordered polls closed over concerns about the coronavirus just hours before voters were supposed to begin casting ballots March 17 in the state’s presidential primary. DeWine announced the decision the night before after a judge had ruled against his request that in-person voting be delayed because of crowds at polling places.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose instructed the state’s 88 county election boards to comply with Dr. Amy Acton’s directive and rescheduled in-person voting to June 2. That timeline was challenged in court by the Ohio Democratic Party, which advocated for casting all remaining votes by mail.
The party moved Thursday to drop its lawsuit, saying the coronavirus relief bill passed Wednesday had addressed its concerns — but voting-rights advocates remained concerned the new date would disenfranchise voters.
The Ohio chapters of the ACLU, the League of Women Voters and others called April 28 an “unacceptable, unworkable” date.
LaRose said Friday that he will carry out the election as lawmakers have outlined it, though he had hoped things would be different.
“I’m a good soldier,” said LaRose, who was a Green Beret. “And when the Legislature has spoken, we’re going to carry out the legislation they created to the best of our ability and support the county boards in carrying out what I won’t say is an unrealistic, but it’s a very tight timeline.”