James Hohmann writes today in Washington Post that Ohio Governor DeWine should pay attention to history: Abraham Lincoln did not cancel the elections of 1864.


”Abraham Lincoln rejected calls to postpone the 1864 election amid the Civil War, even though his reelection remained very much in doubt until the capture of Atlanta that September. “If the rebellion could force us to forgo or postpone a national election, it might fairly claim to have already conquered and ruined us,” the 16th president reasoned.

”To be sure, Lincoln was not facing a global pandemic with a highly contagious novel coronavirus that epidemiologists fear could kill more than a million Americans if not quickly contained. Officials reported 18 new deaths across the United States on Monday, bringing the nationwide total to 85, with more than 4,450 cases now confirmed in the country and the real number thought to be far higher because of problems distributing the test.

”But Lincoln was fending off an existential threat to the country’s survival. And his principle that the elections must go on has guided generations of leaders facing crises. During the influenza pandemic a century ago, for instance, local election officials across the country chose not to postpone voting in primaries during the 1918 midterms.

”On Monday night in Ohio, Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye rejected a temporary restraining order supported by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to postpone the state’s primary until June. He warned that rescheduling the election would “set a terrible precedent.” The judge explained during a court hearing that “there are too many factors to balance in this uncharted territory.”

“That didn’t deter DeWine. A few hours later, his director of public health ordered polls closed on account of a statewide emergency. “During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election [Tuesday] would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus,” the governor tweeted. Overnight, without issuing an opinion, the Ohio Supreme Court denied a legal challenge to the order to postpone the primary. This means that there will not be in-person voting in the Buckeye State today.

“The only thing more important than a free and fair election is the health and safety of Ohioans,” DeWine said in a joint statement overnight with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R). “Logistically, under these extraordinary circumstances, it simply isn’t possible to hold an election tomorrow that will be considered legitimate by Ohioans….”

“Even as President Trump showed a new seriousness about the outbreak, he told reporters that he didn’t think it was necessary for Ohio to delay its primary. “I think postponing elections is not a very good thing,” said Trump. “They have lots of room in a lot of the electoral places. … I think postponing is unnecessary.” He added that he defers to individual states.

“For the foreseeable future, debates over delaying primaries and elections are poised to become normal. “In Arizona, the Maricopa County Elections Department closed 78 polling locations, citing widespread shortages of cleaning supplies. Now, rather than being limited to their local precinct, voters may cast ballots at any of 151 geographically dispersed polling centers,” Amy Gardner, Elise Viebeck and Isaac Stanley-Becker report. “Poll-worker shortages in Florida prompted one election official in Pasco County, north of Tampa, to draft sheriff’s deputies, school district workers and county employees to fill in.”

Suspicion, fear, concern: Is Ohio setting a precedent for the national election of 2020?