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Ohio governor says ‘polls will be closed’ Tuesday as confusion roils primaries

Ohio Health department cites public health emergency over coronavirus

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared late Monday night that the “polls will be closed” in the Buckeye State on Tuesday, amid confusion over whether the state will hold its primary election as scheduled. DeWine had called for the primaries, which feature presidential and congressional contests, to be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But the Republican governor does not have the authority to postpone an election on his own, so he backed a lawsuit filed Monday by two voters that asked a state judge to delay Tuesday’s primary until June 23. The judge rejected that lawsuit Monday night, saying that postponing the primary would set a “terrible precedent,” according to The Columbus Dispatch.

But the Ohio Department of Health then ordered the polls closed, citing a public health emergency.

“While the polls will be closed tomorrow, Secretary of State @FrankLaRose will seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity,” DeWine tweeted late Monday.

The late night back-and-forth roiled campaigns, which believed earlier Monday that the elections would be postponed. Before DeWine’s latest announcement, one Democratic campaign operative in Ohio said the election has been “thrown into chaos.”

The operative said campaigns were scrambling to put Election Day plans back in place after believing the primaries would be postponed: “No one knows for sure what is going on or what will happen tomorrow.”

Spokespersons for the governor, secretary of state and a lawyer working on the lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Polls were due to open at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday, though there were reports that poll workers were told not to show up, the Dispatch reported.

DeWine had tweeted Monday afternoon that he was recommending that Tuesday’s primaries be postponed until June 2. He said voters would still able to request absentee ballots and votes already cast would be counted.

Ohio is one of four states that was scheduled to hold elections Tuesday. Illinois is also holding its presidential and congressional primaries, and Arizona and Florida are holding presidential primaries.

Meanwhile, Kentucky became the latest state to postpone primary elections this year, with state officials announcing Monday that their May 19 presidential and congressional contests would be delayed until June 23.

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams said in a video posted on Twitter that both he and Gov. Andy Beshear agreed to postpone the elections, as required by state law.

“Postponing the primary was not an easy decision. But the Republican secretary of state and Democratic governor are in agreement, and so are the county clerks of both parties, and they are our frontline election administrators,” Adams said.

Adams said there could be more changes, describing Monday’s decision as “a first step to buy us time and keep our citizens as safe as possible.”

Louisiana and Georgia have already postponed their upcoming presidential primaries. Wyoming Democrats have canceled the in-person portion of their April 4 presidential caucus.

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At a White House news conference Monday, President Donald Trump said he thought postponing elections was unnecessary.

“I’d leave that up to the states. It’s a big thing postponing an election. I think, to me, that really goes to the heart of what we’re all about,” he said.

Trump added that states were working at “spreading people out.”

“I think they’ll do it very safely. I hope they’ll do it very safely. But I think postponing elections is not a very good thing. … I think postponing is unnecessary,” he said.

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.

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