In a last-minute decision on Monday night, Ohio’s Republican Governor Mike DeWine postponed his state’s primary elections, in response to the threat of COVID-19 infections at polling sites. DeWine’s decision came in direct defiance of a judge’s order issued just a few hours earlier.
While the interference of a Republican governor in the Democratic nomination process appears suspect on its face, Governor DeWine’s decision was in fact correct and courageous. He put his case in simple terms:
“We can’t tell people it’s in their best interests to stay home and at the same time tell people to go vote.” The contradiction is glaring – states holding a primary on Tuesday are effectively asking their citizens to weigh their civic duty of political participation against their civic duty to maintain public health.
Nevertheless, Judge Richard Frye decided on Monday evening that it was too late to push back the election, as the case had not come “in a timely manner.”
In spite of the obvious dangers of letting masses of people go to the polls with only a few hours to prepare for the potential infection risk, the judge argued that “there is no medical evidence to suggest here today that it would be safer to vote in June.” He went on to argue that as the pandemic may still be happening in the summer, moving the vote would not make any difference to public health.
In fact, it could make a lot of difference.
The pandemic is worsening at a staggeringly quick pace, and Ohio’s leaders need more time to effectively implement the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations, which include social distancing at poll sites, emphasis on mail-in ballots, and disinfecting voting machines. Going ahead with the primary on Tuesday would guarantee confusion at polling sites across the state. Holding the primary in June instead would give everyone a better chance to participate.
Ohio was not the only state set to vote on Tuesday.
Officials in Illinois, Arizona and Florida have committed to moving ahead with nominating events – despite the fact that Florida already has over one hundred and fifty confirmed cases (with five fatalities), and Illinois over one hundred.
Some states, however, have already moved to postpone. Louisiana and Georgia have pushed their primaries back months, with Kentucky following suit on Monday evening. Hopefully, other upcoming states will take the responsible decisions that ensure that their citizens are not unnecessarily exposed to health risks.