Ohio to run all-mail primary through April 28

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive last week, following the polls closure, that said the primary was postponed until June 2. But the legislature’s coronavirus response package nullifies LaRose’s order, after lawmakers argued LaRose did not have that authority.

The new law instructs LaRose’s office to send a postcard to every registered voter in the state to notify them of “the methods by which the elector may obtain an application for absent voter’s ballots,” along with relevant deadlines. But the statute does not actually mail every voter an absentee ballot request.

“Please know that if I could send an absentee request to every voter in this primary I would,” LaRose said in a tweet. “Unfortunately [state regulations] prohibits me from doing so and [this bill] did not address that.”

Ballots must be received by 7:30 p.m. on April 28, or postmarked on or before April 27 and received by May 8 to count — a tight turnaround for a state whose election was marred by late confusion. An extremely limited group of voters will be able to vote in-person on April 28, including disabled voters and those without a home address, but for most people, that option won’t be available.

Voting rights groups immediately expressed concern over the new primary, arguing that it disenfranchised voters.

“The April 28 deadline is unworkable,” tweeted Mike Brickner, the Ohio state director of the group All Voting is Local. “It will take time to print & send out postcards to 7.2 million Ohioans. Every piece of mail typically takes 3-5 days. Not sending an app directly to voters draws out already tight timeline.”

Brickner’s concerns were echoed by state affiliates of the ACLU and Common Cause.

A petition circulated by the state affiliate of the League of Women Voters called for a primary no earlier than mid-May and urged the voter registration deadline to be extended until 30 days before the primary.

In a statement, LaRose said he disapproved of the plan passed by lawmakers but would work to fulfill it.

“It’s disappointing that they’ve instead chosen to significantly reduce the time provided for Ohio to bring this primary to a close,” said LaRose, a Republican. “Though I advocated for a different plan, the legislature has spoken, and I will uphold my oath of office by doing everything in my power over the next 34 days to ensure that every Ohio voter has the opportunity to safely make their voice heard.”

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