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The Statehouse News Bureau provides educational, comprehensive coverage of legislation, elections, issues and other activities surrounding the Statehouse to Ohio's public radio and television stations.

Decision To Not Add New Ballot Drop Boxes Draws Controversy

Drop box behind Delaware County Board of Elections [Jo Ingles / Statehouse News Bureau]
Drop box behind Delaware County Board of Elections

Heated and mostly partisan debate continues over the decision announced last week by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose that Ohio counties will have just one ballot drop box each for this upcoming fall election, with arguments intensifying quickly, given changes at the U.S. Postal Service.

In traditionally Republican Delaware County, the board of elections is at the end of a strip mall that also houses a Big Lots. The drop box is behind the building, next to a dumpster. And the board’s offices are 2 1/2 miles north of the city of Delaware, not within walking distance for the city’s residents.

Delaware County Board of Elections [Jo Ingles / Statehouse News Bureau]

Democratic Hamilton County Commissioner and former State Rep. Denise Driehaus said the one ballot drop box in her usually blue county is centrally located but hard to get to, especially for people without cars. And even for those who have transportation, she said experience has shown there's usually a traffic jam. 

“They have some parking but it’s not huge and so there is always a line that wraps around the building both to drop the ballots and also the early voting so it gets so congested in the parking lot and the streets that surround the board of elections, it’s just a mess," Driehaus said.

Hamilton County Board of Elections and ballot drop box. [Tana Weingartner / WVXU]

Driehaus is just one of dozens of community leaders who have been calling on the Ohio’s top election official to put up additional drop boxes before the November election. But LaRose said he won’t do it for this year’s vote. 

“This is something that I think is a fine idea for the future,” he said. “I hope that the legislature weighs in on this and it can be done in an equitable way but with just under three months to go until Election Day, I don’t think it is time to change the way we have done things here in Ohio and add new drop boxes and questions about the validity of that and also to risk litigation. This is not something I think may happen. This is something I know would happen.”

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said he isn’t ruling out a lawsuit over LaRose’s decision to not allow additional drop boxes.  

“It’s a terrible decision. This reminds me of the Ken Blackwell days in 2004 where decisions make no sense whatsoever, unless in the end they are motivated by making voting harder," Pepper said.

Pepper said LaRose has the authority to establish more drop boxes without legislative approval. LaRose said he wasn’t sure about that and had asked Republican Attorney General Dave Yost to issue a formal opinion.

In a written statement, Yost’s office claims LaRose’s request didn’t contain a specific deadline, adding that Yost was prepared to issue an opinion but ended up not releasing it after LaRose withdrew his request on Aug. 11. 

Guernsey County Board of Elections [Karen Kasler / Statehouse News Bureau]

Ohio voters have four weeks to drop off or mail in ballots. But with changes in mail processing at the federal level, some Ohioans say they are worried about sending in ballots. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said he’s voted by mail in the past and it is a good option, but certainly is not the only one. 

“If they don’t want to do that, they’ve got 13 hours on Election Day, sort of the old-fashioned way, and they can show up," DeWine said of those reluctant to vote by mail. "They will also have opportunities on many days to go to directly to the Board of Elections and vote there. So, there’s many options for every Ohioan so I don’t believe we are going to have a problem in Ohio at all. We know how to do this."

Drop box at Franklin County Board of Elections [Statehouse News Bureau]

But the pandemic has forced local elections boards to make changes to be more COVID-safe. And while officials say it’s unlikely, many are haunted by the possibility that Election Day could be postponed – like Ohio's March primary – in another health crisis.  LaRose said there’s one sure fire way to avoid any problems: vote early. States will send out absentee ballot applications around Labor Day, but they can be requested now. Those ballots will be mailed out when the early voting period opens up in October. 

Copyright 2020 The Statehouse News Bureau. To see more, visit The Statehouse News Bureau.