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Court Allows More Ballot Drop Boxes But LaRose Will Appeal

Statehouse News Bureau
Cuyahoga County Drop Box

The Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge who ruled Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose should and could allow more ballot drop boxes has issued yet another ruling. Last night, the judge granted a preliminary injunction to allow county boards of elections to install drop boxes. 

The preliminary injunction issued by Judge Richard Frye allows local boards of elections to add drop boxes. But that order was quickly stayed when Secretary of State Frank LaRose said he would appeal. In a written statement, a spokeswoman for LaRose says he believes state law is clear on the limited ways paper ballots can be returned. LaRose wasn’t always so sure about that though. This summer, he asked for an opinion from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, but LaRose withdrew that request just a day before Yost was ready to rule. And that’s when he told me why he decided not to allow additional ballot drop boxes. 

Ingles – “I know you said you didn’t want to expand them. You didn’t want to do anything new.” 

LaRose – “Well Jo, it’s not that I didn’t want to.  It’s that I didn’t have the legal authority to do so. “

Secretary of State Frank LaRose
Credit Jo Ingles
Secretary of State Frank LaRose

The ruling handed down from the court Tuesday could have given LaRose the green light. So, I asked him about that Wednesday afternoon, before the new injunction to allow the additional drop boxes came out. 

Ingles –“ So, now that you’ve got a court that says it’s ok to go ahead and put those drop boxes in, why not go ahead and do it? You said you wanted them.” 

LaRose – “Yea, I’m not going to get into the ongoing legal wrangling but this one decision is not the sum total of the legal process and we have got to allow everything to play out and see how it is going to play out. I think we all know the legal battles can be protracted.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper
Credit Statehouse News Bureau
Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper says LaRose doesn’t have a good reason to appeal at this point. LaRose has said repeatedly that he doesn’t want to create any confusion by making changes this close to the election. But Pepper says LaRose himself ordered the one existing drop box that’s at each county board of elections before the May primary and had less time to do it. Until that point, there were not drop boxes at the boards. Pepper says there’s plenty of time to get drop boxes installed now before early voting begins on October 6.

"I’d like to have drop boxes on the first day but if you even had them on the first two weeks, that’s when they are most needed anyway because that’s when people are more worried about the mail. So, to say we don’t have time is also absurd," Pepper says.

The drop box currently at Hamilton County Board of Elections
Credit Tana Weingartner, WVXU
The drop box currently at Hamilton County Board of Elections

Hamilton County Board of Elections member Caleb Faux,  a Democrat, says his board voted at one point to install four more drop boxes around the county. But now that’s up in the air. 

“Well, it puts us in a very difficult place," Faux says.

Faux explains more Ohioans are voting by mail this year due to COVID-19. He says drop boxes are a way to respond to that.  

“We are dealing with a very difficult election and there ought to be some response. We ought to be prepared to allow people to cast their vote quickly and efficiently. And there’s a complete refusal to respond to that situation at all," Faux says.

There is another case that also seeks more drop boxes in federal court, brought by the A. William Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Ohio NAACP and others.

Voters enter Franklin County Early Vote Center in 2016
Credit Jo Ingles
Voters enter Franklin County Early Vote Center in 2016

1.4 million absentee ballots have been requested already - more than the total of absentee ballots requested in 2016. LaRose says county boards are ready for November and have been putting a lot of safeguards in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And if voters cast absentee ballots right away, LaRose says they can avoid problems with slow mail service. 
Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.