March 20, 2020

Pandemic causes changes to primary elections

On Monday evening just before 11 p.m., Ohio Department of Health Director Amy Acton issued a director’s order to postpone the Ohio primary election from Tuesday, March 17 to Tuesday, June 2.

The idea first came as a recommendation by Gov. Mike DeWine, who tweeted “During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus.” Then Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive, followed by Acton’s director’s order that finalized the decision.

Ohioans can now request an absentee ballot until May 26, and ballots will be counted if postmarked no later than June 1. All votes already submitted in-person or by mail will also count.

Eric Corbin, the deputy director of the Butler County Board of Elections, has never experienced anything like this in his eight years at the board. His team had no written contingency plan for how to completely stop an election on such short notice.

“We proceeded forward with the election, expecting it to happen as planned, until we had official notice that it was to be postponed,” Corbin said. The governor had mentioned his request in a press conference earlier in the day, but Corbin received Acton’s official notice at almost midnight. The first thing the board did was post the decision to their social media and website, then printed out some information to hand to poll workers.

As for voter turnout, Corbin imagines it will be lower than anticipated. The majority of votes are cast on election day at the polls, but that could change with an extra two and a half months to vote by mail. “If election day stays on June 2, there’s a possibility that (turnout) could be higher, because that’s almost 11 weeks away,” Corbin said.

Steve Jamison, president of the Butler County Progressive PAC, doesn’t think the number of votes cast will drastically change. However, what could affect Oxford’s vote count, in particular, is the now absent student population of Miami University.

Pushing the Ohio Primary back to June 2 means campaign signs such as these, seen along U.S. 27 south of Oxford, will remain in view for a few more months. Photo by David Wells

Many Miami students are registered to vote in Oxford, but now with the rest of the semester moved to online learning and most students back in their hometowns, thousands of votes will be lost unless students choose to vote absentee.

The biggest effect will be on local candidates, such as the three Republicans running for the nomination in the race for the State Senate seat for District 4. Jamison doesn’t anticipate a major effect on the presidential race, however. “Things seem to be going one direction, and I don’t think Ohio would’ve changed that,” he said.

Despite the new challenges that come with a delayed primary, Jamison doesn’t doubt Governor DeWine’s move. “He’s in such a difficult position that I don’t want to second guess him right now,” Jamison said. “I was disappointed, but it was probably a wise decision.”

More information about the primary can be found on the Butler County Board of Elections’ website, as well as on its Twitter account.