This Tuesday, March 17 is Election Day in Ohio and three other states. Not too long ago, the fact that Election Day in Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Ohio coincided with St. Patrick’s Day seemed like a big deal. Now, with parades canceled, schools closed, and major sporting events halted, the focus is on making sure that Ohioans can safely and confidently go to the polls and exercise their right to vote.
Thankfully, Ohio’s 88 county boards of election have been working closely with the CDC, Ohio Department of Health and local health officials instituting best practices to protect against the spread of Coronavirus/COVID-19. As a result, Ohioans will be voting at accessible and healthy polling places on Tuesday.
Even before Governor DeWine declared a state of emergency this week, county election officials across Ohio and I were encouraging voters to take advantage of our state’s expansive early voting and vote by mail opportunities. And, we were already working to relocate polling locations from senior residential facilities to protect that most vulnerable population. With all of the impacted sites now relocated, voters can visit VoteOhio.gov/CoronaFacts to see if their polling place has moved, and to read the latest on what’s being done to protect Ohio’s election.
We also recognized that some of the over 35,000 dedicated and patriotic Ohioans who serve as poll workers on election day might opt not to do so during this election, despite public health officials’ guidance that it is safe for otherwise healthy Ohioans to serve as poll workers. In response, we worked with groups like the League of Women Voters, the Ohio Federation of Teachers and numerous other labor, veteran, community and industry groups to make an appeal to their members to sign up to be poll workers. Since Tuesday, over 2,100 Ohioans have heeded that call and signed up through our website VoteOhio.gov/DefendDemocracy. That outpouring is a reminder of how Americans come together in challenging times like this.
Of course, as Ohio’s Chief Elections Officer, my mission is to run secure, accurate and accessible elections, but protecting the health and safety of our citizens is always priority one. That’s why I worked with Dr. Amy Acton, the Director of the Ohio Department of Health, to make sure that voting can be done safely on Tuesday. What she advised is that polling places are very different from mass gatherings like concerts or sporting events where large groups of people travel long distances to congregate in a confined space for an extended period of time. Polling locations are relatively small, neighborhood gatherings with people from a nearby community coming into and out of the building for a short duration over the course of a long day. Every polling location has been given, and is required to follow, instructions from voting machine manufacturers on how to sanitize machines, guidance from the CDC on best practices for hand washing, and directions from the Ohio Department of Health for maintaining a healthy environment at the voting location.
The work of thousands of bipartisan, dedicated and patriotic elections officials will make Tuesday’s election fair and accessible. The guidance of our public health professionals will make Tuesday’s election safe for voters and poll workers alike. Then it’s up to you -the citizens of Ohio. Voting is a precious right, but with that comes a responsibility to be informed as well. Here are the things that every Ohio voter should know:
-Some polling places had to be moved to protect senior citizens so check your voting location at VoteOhio.gov/CoronaFacts
-The guidance of health officials is being followed to clean our polling locations and equipment regularly.
-We need your help. Consider serving your community as a poll worker. Training continues through Monday and you will be paid for your time. Sign up for this patriotic duty at VoteOhio.gov/DefendDemocracy
Like so many things in the coming weeks, this election may look and feel a little different than normal. Voters should practice social distance in line, and though every effort is made to avoid it, some lines may be a bit longer, but none of this should discourage voters from participating. Our nation has conducted free and fair elections during difficult times before, and on Tuesday we will do so once again. Ohio and America are stronger when the diverse voices of our fellow citizens are heard at every election, so please don’t miss the chance to participate. See you at the polls on Tuesday!
Frank LaRose is the Ohio Secretary of State.