The Ohio Legislature will not immediately be called to Columbus to respond to Tuesday’s poll closure by the the state’s health director.
Speaker Larry Householder said in a memo Tuesday afternoon that he had decided not to call members in Tuesday or next week.
“The Governor has accumulated a list of things we need to consider. We will consider an extension of absentee voting for the March 17 primary and the governor’s items next week during our regularly scheduled session days,” Householder said.
“I do not want to expose members and staff to coming in and out of Columbus multiple times unless absolutely necessary during this virus situation.”
Ohio Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, R-Perrysburg, said he is looking forward to debating the issue.
“The bottom line is the General Assembly sets the election dates,” he said. “It’s a very fluid situation — a lot of moving parts.”
“What transpired last night left a lot of residents — not just in Wood County — frustrated and dismayed about actions the governor took in the 11th hour.”
He said that Ohio officials need to come together and work together.
“What transpired last night is not part of that solution,” Ghanbari said, adding that the Legislature should have been called into session to make the decision on Monday or earlier.
Just after 10 p.m. on Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the decision to close polls after a judge had ruled against his request that in-person voting be delayed.
Ohio Judge Richard Frye ruled against DeWine’s motion Monday night because he didn’t want to rewrite the law, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
“Over the last 18 hours, unprecedented chaos and confusion have reigned over Ohio’s election system,” Householder said in his memo. “The Ohio legislature must provide an act to respond to our local elections officials, precinct workers, candidates and most importantly, Ohio’s voters, that provides clarity and certainty regarding Ohio’s primary election.
“No Ohio voter should ever wonder when they will have the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” he said.
The date of Ohio’s primary election is set by state law and, as Secretary of State Frank LaRose has acknowledged, the legal authority to change the date rests with the Ohio General Assembly – not the courts and not via executive fiat, Householder said.
Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton closed the polls on Tuesday due to health concerns about coronavirus.
“Just as some of the edicts declared by the health director have confused Ohio’s citizens, so have her edicts presented challenges for our system of government. I have talked with Attorney General (David) Yost regarding the legal issues surrounding limits on gatherings of 50 or greater and their applicability to the Ohio General Assembly. I have requested that the attorney general seek relief from the limits,” Householder said.
“We also believe as a constitutional matter the limits ordered by the Ohio Department of Health do not apply to the legislature as a separate branch of government and as they would unlawfully restrict constitutionally protected political speech.”