Coronavirus and Ohio’s election: Poll workers needed, early voting encouraged

Facing the coronavirus outbreak just before the March 17 primary election, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose put out the call for more Ohioans to be poll workers, announced plans to disinfect voting machines, urged voters to vote early and ordered county boards of elections to move 125 polling locations out of senior living centers to alternate locations.

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LaRose said his office will work with voting advocates, candidates and the media to notify voters impacted by the change in locations. Six of those polling places are in Montgomery County. Polling places inside schools will not be moved because of logistical challenges but districts can decide whether to cancel classes on Election Day, LaRose said.

Ohio mobilizes 35,000 poll workers at 3,658 locations for each election. LaRose called on veterans and other patriotic Ohioans to consider signing up to be poll workers.

“It’s an opportunity to help make sure that we have a secure and honest election for all Ohioans this coming Tuesday,” he said.

LaRose did not disclose how many poll workers may have decided against working Election Day because of coronavirus concerns. Poll workers often are older Ohioans who fall into the high risk category for complications should they contract the disease.

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“We reinforce that it will be safe for poll workers to work but the responsible thing to do — this is no different than any of us in our workforce — the responsible thing to do is if you don’t plan to attend Election Day, you need to notify your board of elections right now. A no call, no show is not acceptable,” LaRose said.

Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said poll workers with health concerns should check with their medical providers now, rather than wait.

Acton and LaRose urged Ohioans to vote early.

Early voting is open through 7 p.m. each day this week as well as Saturday and Sunday and until 2 p.m. Monday; absentee ballots may be requested until noon Saturday and must be post-marked by Monday to be counted.

LaRose said county Boards of Elections will be directed to have curbside drop off for absentee ballots on Election Day at the board offices — not the polling locations.

Steps are being taken to make sure voting machines are disinfected and hand sanitizer is available at polling locations on Election Day, he said.

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LaRose also warned Ohioans to guard against disinformation by seeking out information from credentialed journalists and other trusted sources.

“We know that foreign adversaries have used emergency situations like this as a jumping off point for their insidious disinformation efforts. These are the kind of things, again, we need to be alert to,” he said.

Acton said it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is community spread of the coronavirus, called COVID-19, which is a respiratory condition marked by fever, cough and difficulty breathing. Those with chronic diseases and compromised immune systems, the elderly and health care workers are most at risk, she said.

The Ohio Department of Health opened a hotline, 833-4ASK-ODH, and established to offer tips and answer questions from the public.

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Meanwhile, Gov. Mike DeWine and Attorney General Dave Yost canceled public meetings and press conferences today; Ohio State University announced classes would be held online through March 30; the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation canceled a safety conference that was expected to draw 8,000 attendees this week; University of Dayton canceled international travel.

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