What you need to know about the coronavirus and voting in Ohio’s upcoming March 17th primary

If you’ve watched the news, you have no doubt have heard about the global pandemic of the latest strain of coronvirus (COVID-19) that has led to the suspension of major sporting events and community events like the Reds’ Opening Day parade.  Just today, Governor Mike DeWine announced as a precaution to control the rate of the spread of the disease, he is cancelling all Ohio schools for the next three weeks starting next week.  This, no doubt, has left you wondering about Ohio’s primary election next week.  At moments like this, it is vital that there is full disclosure of the facts so that the public can understand the situation and make informed decisions.

If you take anything away from this post is this: after consultation with federal, state, and county health officials, reasonable steps have been taken to minimize the health risk and protect the ability for you to cast your ballot.

If you live in Fairfield or Monroe and your polling location is a nursing home, your poll location has been moved this week.

On Monday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive ordering all county board of elections to move any polling location located in a nursing home to relocate.  This was done in consultation with the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health and done as a precaution to mitigate “any potential risk to identified vulnerable populations.”  As a result, the Butler County Board of Elections announced on Tuesday that three polling locations in nursing homes were moved pursuant to that directive.

If you are unsure what your polling location is, you can check it online here.

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What other steps are being taken to protect the voting public and people working at polling locations?

In addition to moving polling locations out of nursing homes to protect the most vulnerable populations, the Secretary of State’s directive on Monday also required county board of elections to review the CDC’s recommended best practices to protect the risk of the coronavirus at polling locations.  The Butler County Board of Elections has ensured that the early vote center and every polling location has adequate supplies of hand sanitizer and supplies to properly sanitize all voting equipment and surfaces repeatedly throughout the day. Both the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health have found these practices are adequate safeguards to both protect the voting public and those working the polls.

County boards of elections have been notified that they will be reimbursed for the purchase of sanitizer, disinfectants, disinfecting or antibacterial wipes, disposable gloves, rubbing alcohol or isopropyl, or any other sanitizing materials necessary for the facilitation of a safe and healthy environment on election day.

If professional sports are cancelling their seasons and schools are closing the next three weeks, is it safe to vote at a polling location that is a school?

Yes, in consultation with the CDC, the Ohio Department of Health, and the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Secretary of State issued this guidance to explain that it is totally safe for public schools to continue to serve as polling locations and polling locations themselves are relatively safe:

“Specific to Election Day, it’s important to note that Election Day is different from other large public events or gatherings. Unlike large gatherings like the Arnold Fitness Classic or high attendance conferences, voting on election day takesplace in small communities of neighbors who are more likely than not to interact in other ways every day –whether at the grocery store, in church, or elsewhere. Unlike other large public events or gatherings, Election Day does not reflect a situation where bigger crowds from geographically different areas come into one tight space, which could cause greater concerns about virus transmission.”

The fact is that there is a bigger risk of transmission among students in a school or in-person class university setting than the brief interaction members of the public has at a polling location that is utilizing the CDC’s best practices to keep equipment disinfected.  That is why the Butler County Board of Elections clarified tonight it is not moving polling locations at schools or at Miami University’s Shriver Center.

Is it too late to request a ballot by mail?

Legally, the deadline to apply for an absentee ballot by mail is Saturday at noon. The BOE does generally mail out ballots within the same day it receives the application.  Therefore, the last of the absentee ballots will be mailed out Saturday afternoon.   However, the Butler County Board of Elections cannot guarantee whether the U.S. Postal Service will deliver your ballot in time.  Remember, an absentee ballot must be postmarked no later than March 16th and received by the Board of the Elections within ten days to be valid. Or, it must be delivered to the Board of Elections by the times polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.  There is a curbside drop box outside of the Board of Elections you can drop off your absentee mail ballot until the polls close.

What are my other options to vote?

You may still also vote at the Board of Elections during the remaining early vote hours:

In-person early voting hours
Week Four of Voting (March 9 – March 15)
8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on each weekday (Monday through Friday)8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 14
1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 15
March 16
8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the Monday before Election Day

Early voting is at the Butler County Board of Elections at 1802 Princeton Rd., Hamilton, OH  45011.  You should also bring the same suitable form of identification you bring to the polls.

However, if you are able to vote between 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. at your polling location, chances are you will encounter a smaller crowd than we’ve historically seen at the early voting site during the final weekend hours of early voting.  So, if you are able to wait to vote at your polling location during non-peak times, you may be more successful in “social distancing” than voting in-person early during the weekend hours which historically have been disproportionately the busiest and heaviest period of early voting.

The Butler County Board of Elections has been prepared and taken concrete steps to minimize the risk to public health and to protect voters and those working at the polls.  Please also forward this post to any friends or family members in Butler County who you believe would be interested in voting in this year’s Democratic primary.  We hope you find this information helpful.  Thank you.

Brian R. Hester
BCDP Executive Committee Chair