The Ohio primary is likely to proceed as expected on Tuesday, after all.
A judge on Monday evening rejected Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s request to delay the primary amid coronavirus concerns. DeWine had argued that holding the primary Tuesday could endanger voters and poll workers, given the influx of coronavirus cases. Since DeWine didn’t have the power to cancel the primary himself, he pushed for a court order that would delay it.
Franklin County Judge Richard Frye, however, argued that the request wasn’t “timely” enough. As Ohio Capital Journal’s Jake Zuckerman reported, the judge concluded that the situation may not improve by June 2, the new proposed primary date, and that the delay could lead to disenfranchisement as well. Unless there’s a last minute appeal, the election will take place as originally scheduled.
DeWine had pressed for the postponement on Monday afternoon, and noted that urging people to go to polling stations would contradict new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control which has pressed people to avoid gatherings of 50 or more people (and to avoid gatherings of 10 or more among high-risk populations).
“We can’t tell people it’s in their best interest to stay home and at the same time tell people to go vote,” DeWine said.
The state, as of Monday, had seen 50 positive tests for the coronavirus. It’s one of four major states still scheduled to hold a primary on Tuesday. The other three, Florida, Illinois, and Arizona, are slated to move forward with their elections, too.
The logistics of this Tuesday’s primaries have been especially fraught, given recent CDC recommendations about social distancing and avoiding crowded places, a descriptor that can often refer to polling stations where voters end up queuing in long lines.
All four states have imposed some precautions to help protect voters and polling workers: They’ve shifted hundreds of polling stations away from senior living facilities to other community locations like school and libraries, extended polling hours and committed to rigorously sanitizing machines. Ohio is also poised to offer curbside voting, so individuals who are uncomfortable entering the polling station can still participate.
As major cities close down in-person service at restaurants and bars, and discourage other widely attended events like sports games, however, the decision to hold primaries on Tuesday continues to raise questions about how to most effectively protect those participating in them.
Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana, three states with later primaries, have all pushed theirs back.
Mail-in voting and absentee ballots could make a big difference
While the states holding primaries this week were faced with unique challenges given the timing of their elections, states that have races later in the calendar could continue to encourage voter participation amid the coronavirus outbreak via vote-by-mail and absentee options.
In Ohio, for example, absentee ballots can be submitted via mail. And in states like Washington, which has already voted, mail-in voting comprised the majority of the ballots that were cast.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak in Washington, mail-in voting in the state likely played a major role in encouraging voter turnout despite the need to maintain social distancing. Turnout for its primary in 2020 was at 47 percent, up from 35 percent in 2016, though it’s worth noting that the primary that year was non-binding for Democrats (it took place after a state caucus vote).
As Vox’s Ella Nilsen has reported, there’s an effort by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to make vote-by-mail much more accessible ahead of the November general election, in case states are still facing challenges related to the coronavirus at that time. A bill that he’s proposed would enable all voters to get a mail-in ballot if 25 percent of states declare a state of emergency. It would also guarantee $500 million in federal funding that would be doled out to states attempting to implement these initiatives.
Currently, 34 states and Washington DC enable all voters to request an absentee ballot or vote by mail, Nilsen writes. The 16 other states, including Texas, New York, and Massachusetts, require an excuse for voters to use absentee ballots.
A reform that’s known for increasing access to the ballot box, vote-by-mail could well become more popular under the current circumstances.