Late last night, Dr. Amy Acton, Director of the Ohio Department of Health, ordered all polling locations in Ohio to be closed on March 17, 2020. Her action reflects the growing concern relative to the spread of COVID-19 (which has been declared a pandemic).
Her order was initiated after Franklin County Judge Frye refused to grant a temporary restraining order to prohibit the election from taking place. (Earlier in the day, Gov. DeWine admitted that he did NOT possess the power to stop the election, but that his Attorney General would not fight a request for the restraining order thus, effectively, canceling the election day of March 17. However, DeWine suggested that the date be moved to June 2 — with walk-in/absentee voting permissible until that time.)
There has been a great deal of confusion regarding the Constitutionality of this process. You should know that Dr. Acton DOES possess the power to close down the polls — as granted to her in the following section of the Ohio Revised Code:
3701.13 Department of health – powers.
The department of health shall have supervision of all matters relating to the preservation of the life and health of the people and have ultimate authority in matters of quarantine and isolation, which it may declare and enforce, when neither exists, and modify, relax, or abolish, when either has been established.
The department may make special or standing orders or rules… for preventing the spread of contagious or infectious diseases…
Hence, Dr. Acton was acting within her powers as the Director of the ODH.
That being said, had Judge Frye granted the restraining order or had the state legislature been summoned to alter the date (moving it back to June 2) and procedure (permitting absentee ballots to be requested and counted upon receipt), there would have been few questions. Neither option occurred resulting in the confusion that we now confront.
Clearly we are in unchartered territory. I was prepared as late as yesterday, to convene in legislative session with my colleagues to address this situation. As of this writing, the Speaker has yet to call us back in session to deal with this incongruity. Rest assured that I will continue to do my part, to the best of my abilities, to serve you and to uphold the Constitutional oath I took.
However, you should also know that I was asked to help the Ashtabula County Board of Elections make calls to polling officials last night — first to confirm that the election was to be held; then to call, once more, to cancel the election. What I experienced and witnessed was impressive and inspirational. In all the chaos, our members of the Board (and volunteers) acted in the most professional manner. Adapting on the fly to directives from Columbus, and without rancor, derision or any hint of partisanship, these wonderful people worked in concert to uphold the democratic process by doing their part to ensure that a fair and impartial election was held on March 17. I enthusiastically applaud the work of all who gathered at the BOE last night to engage in this procedure.
Rest assured, as more information comes to your office, we will continue to share in the most timely manner possible. I thank you for your patience and understanding in these difficult times.