It was March 14th when the first public health order came out regarding the COVID Pandemic and it March 17th was when the in-person primary was set to occur. The March 14th orders limited access to visiting Nursing homes and closed K-12 schools. March 15th brought an order that closed all Restaurants and Bars.
It was not until late in the afternoon on March 16th when it was announced that Dr. Acton had signed a public health order closing all in-person polling locations. As a poll worker who was scheduled to work the polls for the primary, here is my perspective on what transpired in the afternoon / evening of March 16th. I watched the briefing announcing the closure of the polling locations and watched the early evening news and it seemed that the polling locations were indeed closed. Later in the evening I received an email and text alert sent out to poll workers saying that we were to report as scheduled at 5:30am the following morning. It was around 10:00pm when another alert went out stating that the polling locations were closed. Online I found out that it was to be around Midnight there would be a final answer from Ohio Supreme Court.
It was not until a week later approximately, that the plan was finalized that the primary would be finished by absentee / Mail-In ballot only, with ballots to be postmarked on / before April 28th. The final result of this decision was that Franklin County had less than a 20% turnout rate, and in a briefing only 2 business days before the ballot deadline, Lt. Governor Husted announced that nearly 700,000 absentee ballots were still not returned. What saddend and frustrated me the most was personal stories I heard from friends and neighbors who stated that they either had to apply for an absentee ballot multiple times before they ever received it, absentee ballots that were not ever received after being requested, and ballots that were turned well before the deadline, but were not listed as “accepted for processing” until the last minute, which would not have allowed enough time to request another ballot if it had been lost.
While some people have stated that they believe having a whole month of early in-person voting and another 6 weeks of absentee voting should have allowed ample opportunity to vote, even for a primary election, 19.4% turnout absolutely reflects a scenario where not all voters who wanted to, or planned to were actually able to cast their ballot.
My point is this: The closing of the polls was mismanaged. It may have been necessary in light of what we knew the week of the primary about the COVID virus and how to treat it, but it could have been handled differently. For example, if schools, nursing homes and restaurants were closed by March 14th and 15th, the announcement could have been made at that same time, so there wasn’t mass confusion the evening before polls were supposed to be open. Another way that it could have been handled is that all of the early voting locations could have closed 3/16 and 3/17, machines spaced farther apart and social distancing marks taped to floors and allowed in-person voting to be staggered over 2 weeks by last name in addition to allowing the 4/28 deadline for absentee ballots.