CLEVELAND — On March 10 of last year, preparations were underway at both the Huntington Convention Center and Tri-C for two big indoor rallies as both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders planned to take their mini-Super Tuesday election results in Cleveland, one week ahead of the Ohio primary. Those plans came to a halt mid-afternoon when Governor Mike DeWine recommended that all indoor events where there are spectators take place without spectators.
As a result, rather than fly to Cleveland, both candidates flew home bringing a halt to in-person primary campaigning. The hope in Ohio though was that the primary a week away could still be held but there were challenges.
“We had large numbers of poll workers that are in that age group that are more vulnerable and so many of them had opted out,” recalled Secretary of State Frank LaRose. “We were able to recruit 5,000 new poll workers in that week leading up to March 17 and get them all trained. At the direction of the Ohio Department of Health, we had to move polling centers out of senior residential facilities, so we had to move a large number of polling locations and notify voters about that.”
They also had to supply each polling place with the necessary personal protective equipment or PPE. Even still by March 17, the primary was postponed, ordered back on again by an appeals court, and ordered delayed again by the state Supreme Court.
"I think that in time,” LaRose said at the time, “that we'll be judged to have made the right choice."
The primary would eventually be held in April as an all vote by mail contest, something the state was able to pull off in large part because of the changes they made after problems with the 2004 election which created a push towards early voting in the state. That was something that a record 59% of Ohioans would choose to do in the November election.
“I think that really one of the things that came out of last year's experience is the validation of Ohio's leadership in the nation as it relates to having three good voting options,” LaRose said.
Now that they've tried it, LaRose believes they'll continue to do use vote by mail and he's calling on the legislature to make it even easier by allowing for online requesting of a vote by mail ballot and tackling the issue of long early voting lines at the Boards of Elections.
"I believe that we should add flexibility so that the Boards of Elections can choose to have multiple early voting locations."
He also said he supports adding additional drop boxes but it's something the legislature needs to direct him to do.
"That's something that I'm all for an expansion of that but it's got to be done at the statehouse and it's got to be done in law.”