Election postponed: What happens next for Butler County voters?

A sign posted on Madison High School on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, indicated in-person voting was delayed. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is pushing for in-person voting for the presidential primary, which is now scheduled for June 2. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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A sign posted on Madison High School on Tuesday, March 17, 2020, indicated in-person voting was delayed. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is pushing for in-person voting for the presidential primary, which is now scheduled for June 2. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Butler and Warren county election officials made moves to continue absentee voting and delay election day after an order by the Ohio Department of Health stopped voting on Tuesday.

Butler County Board of Elections Director Diane Noonan said delaying in-person voting to June 2 “speaks volumes” about the steps Ohio leaders are taking to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“This is unprecedented given how important elections are to our country,” she said.

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After Gov. Mike DeWine said Monday that holding the elections could lead to more spread of the COVID-19 virus, a lawsuit was filed by citizens in Franklin County to stop the in-person voting. After a judge rules Monday evening that election should be held, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton declared a statewide health emergency and ordered the polls closed Tuesday.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose moved the primary back to June 2.

LaRose, in a directive to Ohio's 88 boards of elections, is pushing for Ohioans to vote-by-mail. Voters have until May 26 to process an absentee ballot, which can be mailed to voters after they call their county elections office or downloaded at VoteOhio.gov.

DeWine said the goal is to balance the health of Ohio citizens, and protecting everyone’s right to vote. He also supports Acton’s order, calling it “necessary because this virus infection is going to continue to hit Ohioans, and we don’t want to put them in a situation where they cannot vote.”

“Our goal is that everybody who wants to vote will be able to vote. Our goal is that no one will have to choose between their constitutional rights and risking their health,” DeWine said. “We have to preserve all constitutional rights.”

READ: Here is the Ohio Secretary of State’s directive moving Ohio’s presidential primary to June 2

Ohio Rep. Sara Carruthers, R-Hamilton, said the issue “could have been handled so much better.”

“We knew this was a problem,” she said. “We could have done something before this last-minute order and to keep (lawmakers) updated would have been nice.”

Carruthers, who represents Hamilton, Fairfield and Ross Twp., believes the primary election still could have happened.

“I understand we want everyone to stay healthy, God knows I do, but this is a Constitutional situation and I don’t believe (Ohio Department of Health Director) Dr. Acton and (Ohio Secretary of State) Frank LaRose outweigh that,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Please forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Miami University Regionals political science professor John Forren said the delay “completely upends the whole election,” though he called the delay “the right call.”

“It certainly both breaks with a longstanding tradition of holding our elections on time no matter what and the traditional playbook of how candidates run their campaigns,” Forren said.

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The delay will have a “huge and unpredictable impact” on all local races, including the three contested GOP primary races in Butler County, two for an Ohio House seat and one for an Ohio Senate seat. It will also impact the levies on the ballot.

Cedarville University political science professor Mark C. Smith said the delay in the election “will benefit the candidates who have the necessary funding on hand to continue their communications with voters. Typically, this means incumbents or wealthy, self-financing challengers.”

He said the real impact, however, is how the public perceives Ohio’s response, where sitting lawmakers “can claim at least a little credit.”

If Ohioans perceived the state overreached, or failed, that could hurt sitting lawmakers.

Before the delay in voting and warnings about the spread of the coronavirus, elections officials predicted voter turnout could be upwards of 45 percent.

Forren said the delay “almost certainly” will impact turnout.

“Not only is there a significant concern about the health of our poll workers — who come disproportionately from older age groups — but there was also a big concern about whether people would turn out to vote (Tuesday) even if the election had been held as scheduled,” he said.


HOW TO VOTE

Ohioans can vote-by-mail until June 1, 2020, when ballots must be postmarked. Here’s how you can vote-by-mail:

• Download an absentee ballot request application from VoteOhio.gov . Voters must fill out the form, print it and mail it to their county board of elections.

• Voters can also call their county board of elections to request an application to be mailed.

• The board will then send all registered voters a ballot for them to vote-by-mail. Instructions will be included on how to return the ballot, which can be mailed or hand-delivered to the elections office.

• All absentee ballot application requests must be postmarked by May 26, 2020, in order to receive an absentee ballot.

• Voters will be required to include their driver’s license number, the last four digits of their Social Security Number, a copy of a current identification or valid photo identification, or a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or other government documents that contains the voter’s current address.

For Butler County, mail forms to 1802 Princeton Road, Hamilton, Ohio 45011, or call 513-887-3700 for information.

For Warren County, mail forms to 520 Justice Drive, Lebanon, Ohio 45036, or call 513-695-1358 for information.

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