Commentary: Why Ohio's Primary Election Delay Is Wreaking Havoc

Mar 19, 2020
Originally published on March 24, 2020 3:24 pm

A consensus is growing in Ohio - among Democrats and Republicans alike - that it is time Ohio set a date for its primary election, which was to have happened Tuesday, so that all of this can be over, once and for all.

And that date is likely to be much earlier than June 2, the date originally set by Ohio's chief elections officer, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, as the day when polling places would finally open and the votes would be counted.

But, thanks to a lawsuit before the Ohio Supreme Court filed by the Ohio Democratic Party and the apparent intent of the Republican leaders of the Ohio legislature to get on with it, this election could end up being unique in the 217-year history of this state.

It could be the election which ends sometime in April without a single polling place in Ohio's 88 counties ever opening its doors to voters. And with a count based solely on absentee mail-in ballots and the votes of those who voted at county boards of elections prior to Tuesday.

So be it.

This is probably not something the average voter cares about, but the delay is wreaking havoc on candidate races where congressional and local candidates with primary opposition are running out of money and may find it difficult to raise more for general election campaigns in an economy that is going south fast.

But it will make for a very strange and very skewed general election.

"I have no interest in seeing this primary drag out one more second than necessary,'' said political consultant Jared Kamrass, whose Rivertown Strategies firm is running campaigns for several Democratic candidates and the "Yes on 7" campaign for a county-wide transit tax.

"Ending this as soon as possible is the best thing for candidates of both parties,'' Kamrass said.

Well, then let it end. Put a date on it. April 28, as the Ohio Democratic Party lawsuit suggests. Or some other date in April.

"We didn't file this with the Supreme Court because we want to fight with anybody on this; we don't,'' said David Pepper, chair of the Ohio Democratic Party. "I've been in constant communication with the governor's office on this and they are with us in principle.

"The idea that we might be in the position to hold a regular, in-person election at the polling places by June 2 is questionable at best,'' Pepper said.

It is likely that by the end of next week, we will have an answer; and the answer will likely be sometime in April.

The Ohio Supreme Court has put out a schedule for the case that suggests the seven-member court will have a decision by next Friday and the decision will either be set by the court itself or order the Ohio General Assembly to do so.

Ordering the legislature might be a moot point by next Friday.

The Ohio General Assembly is set to go into session next Wednesday, and Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder is clearly running out of patience and would like to see a conclusion to this election within the next couple of weeks.

It is very hard to argue that the decision by Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, late Monday night to close the polls was the wrong one. Lives were at stake, particularly the health and well-being of the most vulnerable Ohioans, the elderly, to COVID-19.

That was the right decision. One based in science. One that took courage.

Now it is time for the administration, the legislature, the courts and the political parties to show more courage and put an end to this myth that we can wait months to hold an election and everything will be just fine and dandy.

Real life suggests otherwise.

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