Ohio Democratic Party sues Ohio Secretary of State over primary election postponement

On March 17, 2020, the Democratic Party of Ohio and Kiara Sanders, a registered voter in Franklin County, filed suit against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) in the state supreme court, alleging that LaRose was “patently and unambiguously without jurisdiction and legal authority to suspend, move, or set the date of Ohio’s 2020 presidential primary election.” They argued instead that the legal authority to set the date of the primary election rested with the state legislature.

The plaintiffs asked the court to do the following:
• Bar the secretary of state from setting a date for the 2020 primary election
• Order election administrators to accept and process absentee voting applications until 12:00 p.m. on April 25, 2020
• Order election administrators to direct local boards of elections to accept and count all valid absentee ballots postmarked on or before April 28, 2020, and received on or before May 8, 2020
• Order election administrators to accept and count all valid absentee ballots delivered personally by a voter or his or her family member on or before April 28, 2020
• Order the secretary of state to provide for prepaid postage for all absentee ballots and applications

Earlier this week, LaRose ordered the postponement of the primary from March 17, 2020, to June 2, 2020, after Ohio Health Director Dr. Amy Acton ordered the closure all polls on March 17 in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

This lawsuit is the latest in a series of actions surrounding the postponement of Ohio’s primary. On March 16 (before LaRose moved the state’s primary date) a group of private citizens filed suit in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas at the request of Governor Mike DeWine (R)seeking a postponement of the state’s primary election.

Judge Richard Frye declined to postpone the primary. Frye said, “There are too many factors to balance in this unchartered territory to say that we ought to take this away from the legislature and elected statewide officials, and throw it to a common pleas court judge in Columbus 12 hours before the election.”

In a joint press release issued shortly after 9:00 p.m., DeWine and LaRose said, “Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans. They mustn’t be forced to choose between their health and exercising their constitutional rights.” Shortly after 10:00 p.m., DeWine announced that polls would be closed on March 17 by Acton’s order.

In response to this announcement, a candidate for office in Wood County, Ohio, filed suit in the state supreme court, alleging that the postponement violated state election laws. Shortly before 4:00 a.m., the court rejected this argument, allowing the postponement to stand.

LaRose then issued a directive to election administrators postponing in-person voting to June 2, 2020. The absentee ballot application deadline was extended to May 26, and the postmark deadline was extended to June 1. The voter registration deadline, originally February 18, was left unchanged. All ballots already cast, either by mail or in person, would be counted as usual.