COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The new coronavirus could impact voting in Ohio’s upcoming primary among both young adults and the elderly, as dozens of polling places inside nursing homes are relocated and tens of thousands of Ohio State students heed calls to stay away from the campus where many are registered to vote.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose urged Ohioans on Tuesday to take advantage of early voting opportunities available in person and by mail heading into the March 17 primary.
He also reminded voters they can still request an absentee ballot, but that they “have to act fast.” Ohio’s process requires printing out a ballot application and mailing it in, receiving the ballot by mail, then getting it turned in or postmarked by Monday.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
Ohio State has cancelled all in-person classes until the end of the month, moving learning temporarily online, and its students are currently on spring break.
Congressional candidate Morgan Harper, a Democrat running in central Ohio’s 3rd District, said they would need to request the ballot immediately to hope to get it postmarked by Monday’s deadline.
“I don’t know what you were like when you were 18, 19 on spring break, but probably not focused on how do I make sure I print out an absentee ballot (application),” she said. “So this is a big concern.”
She said LaRose should extend absentee ballot deadlines to accommodate changes prompted by the virus. LaRose said, as of Tuesday, he didn’t plan to change those deadlines or to extend voting hours on Election Day.
He noted that early voting centers will be open all week, including Saturday and Sunday, as well as until 2 p.m. on Monday.
LaRose has ordered all 88 county election boards to provide curbside ballot dropoff on Election Day. The boards also are working with local emergency management offices to assure they have the sanitation supplies necessary to keep polling places safe and, if that fails, LaRose said his office will provide the funds to buy them.
“It’s a big undertaking,” he said. “We are ready for it. We will be ready for it.”
Republican Gov. Mike DeWine declared a statewide emergency Monday, after three Ohio cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. LaRose’s order to move polling places located inside nursing homes also came Monday, eight days out from the election. At least 128 have been identified so far, with a few more counties yet to report.
The elections chief conceded that the decision will inconvenience some nursing home residents who have come to expect to vote on site at their living facilities. But he said his office is working to update affected voters by mail, as well as on his website.