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Coronavirus In Ohio: Election Officials Move Polling Places Away From Nursing Homes

Secretary LaRose (right) showing a resident the new machine at National Church Residences in Columbus.
Nick Evans
Secretary LaRose (right) showing a resident the new machine at National Church Residences in Columbus.

With one week until the Ohio primary, the state’s boards of elections are moving 128 polling places at nursing homes and senior residential facilities over concerns about coronavirus.

That will mean thousands of Ohio voters will have to find their new polling locations for the March 17 election.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose made the announcement Tuesday, a day after health officials confirmed three positive cases of coronavirus in Northeast Ohio.

“We don’t want to overreact,” LaRose said. “We want to react smartly.”

He explained they’re concerned about exposing residents of those facilities to COVID-19. The elderly and people with pre-existing conditions are those most at risk of contracting the disease.

Mailings are going out to potentially affected voters, who can request a ballot by mail before Saturday. However, those ballots must be postmarked on Monday or dropped off at the board of elections on Tuesday.

Franklin County Board of Elections director Ed Leonard says they’re working with the facilities to make sure those residents will be able to participate, as well.

“Those residents expected that they were going to vote on Election Day,” Leonard said.

Jen Miller with the League of Women Voters of Ohio says she’s encouraging the affected voters to cast their ballots early. Early voting has been going on in the state for several weeks already.

“Clearly it would be great to have more time, but how do we provide more time in this situation?” Miller says.

Voting machines at all polling places will be wiped down, and Miller said hand sanitizer will be available for voters.

LaRose also says he directed boards of elections to start communicating a message to an estimated 35,000 poll workers: “It will be a safe environment on election day. It is safe to be a poll worker.”

The Secretary Of State’s Office is also trying to recruit new poll workers to replace ones who no longer want to work.

Because so many of the 3,658 polling places are at schools, LaRose says it’s impractical to move them, but schools could close if they’re concerned.

The Ohio Department of Health makes the following recommendations to protect yourself from illness:

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; dry hands with a clean towel or air dry hands. 
  • Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable. 
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue or sleeve when sneezing or coughing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. 
  • Stay home when you are sick. 
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.

Ohio's coronavirus call center is open to answer questions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. The hotline number is 1-833-4-ASK-ODH or 1-833-427-5634.