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Legislature extends primary to April 28

By DAVID SKOLNICK

Staff writer

COLUMBUS — In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state Legislature approved a bill that extends primary election voting to April 28, prohibits water utility shutoffs, waives state testing and report cards for this school year, and delays the state tax filing deadline to July 15.

The Ohio House and Senate met Wednesday to approve this sweeping bill. Gov. Mike DeWine praised the bill and said he’ll sign it into law soon.

There will be no in-person voting for the primary with pre-paid postcards sent to every registered voter — even if they’ve already voted — explaining how to get an absentee ballot. Those who have already voted won’t be allowed to vote again. The only exceptions to allow in-person voting is for certain disabled voters and those without access to the postal system.

The Legislature didn’t fund the cost of voters mailing back the completed ballots. Instead of mailing a ballot, voters can also drop it off at county boards of elections.

The ballots will be counted by boards of elections on April 28.

All ballots must be postmarked by April 27 and have to arrive no later than 10 days after April 28 at boards of elections to be counted. The 10-day window is normal for Ohio elections and results aren’t official until boards of elections certify them. But with a mail-only vote this time there likely will be considerably more ballots arriving after this primary election night than previous ones.

Dr. Amy Acton, head of the Ohio Department of Health, canceled the March 17 in-person primary election at the request of DeWine because of a public health concern from the COVID-19 pandemic. Secretary of State Frank LaRose and the governor then called for the primary to be June 2. Mail voting would have been extended with plans for in-person voting on June 2.

But state legislators balked at that proposal, saying it was too late.

LaRose wrote in a Saturday letter to legislators that June 2 was the earliest date for an election because of “the logistical realities of conducting a vote-by-mail election” and impact of the novel coronavirus. He also wrote that any date earlier than June 2 wouldn’t give voters a “reasonable time to cast a ballot” and “a plan that does not afford every Ohioan an opportunity to vote free of charge would be unconstitutional.”

REDUCED TIME

On Wednesday, LaRose said: “It’s disappointing that (the Legislature) instead (chose) to significantly reduce the time provided for Ohio to bring this primary to a close.”

But, he said, he’ll do “everything in my power” to “ensure that every Ohio voter has the opportunity to safely make their voice heard.”

LaRose said he estimates the postcards will reach registered voters by the second week in April.

Like every legislator, state Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan, D-Youngstown, backed the bill, but said it was “kind of scary they’re sending it to everybody even if you voted. People might think, ‘Oh, my God, my vote didn’t count.'”

She also said not providing postage for the ballots raises the “question of a poll tax.”

State Rep. Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren, also said he was “concerned” about the state not paying postage on the ballots.

“It’s going to be a monumental task for boards of elections” to run this primary election, he added. “I’m concerned about the volume of mail for this election. You may get a bigger turnout and it’s going to put a lot of pressure on our local boards of elections. It’s a quick turnaround, and we’re relying on mail.”

The other key points in the bill include:

• Waiving state testing and report cards for the 2019-2020 school year, permits seniors to graduate if schools determine they were on track to do so before the pandemic; and not require passage of the third-grade reading guarantee.

• Prohibit public water disconnections during the pandemic.

• Extend the validity of licenses issued by state agencies and political subdivisions for 90 days.

• Permit government and school bodies to meet electronically as long as the public is aware and can participate.

• Delay the state and local government tax filing deadline to July 15.

• Stop the statute of limitations for criminal and civil cases that would expire between March 9 and July 30.

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