Court Allows More Ballot Drop Boxes But LaRose Will Appeal, While Partisan Controversy Continues

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A second decision was issued Wednesday by the same Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge who ruled Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose could and should allow more ballot drop boxes, this one issuing a preliminary injunction to allow county boards of elections to install more drop boxes.

Judge Richard Frye’s injunction would allow local boards of elections to add drop boxes and their discretion, but it was quickly stayed when LaRose said he would appeal.

In a written statement, a spokeswoman for LaRose said Ohio’s top elections official believes state law is clear on the limited ways paper ballots can be returned. LaRose wasn’t always so sure about that though. Earlier this summer, he asked for an opinion from Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, but LaRose withdrew that request just before Yost was ready to rule, saying he “didn’t have the legal authority to do so. “

Tuesday’s ruling seemed to have given LaRose the green light. But when asked by the Statehouse News Bureau if he was going to go ahead and authorize more drop boxes in, LaRose was noncommittal.

“Yeah, 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,” he said.

Secretary of State Frank LaRose [Jo Ingles / Statehouse News Bureau]

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said Wednesday LaRose doesn’t have a good reason to appeal at this point. While LaRose said repeatedly he doesn’t want to create any confusion by making changes this close to the election, Pepper insists LaRose himself ordered the one existing drop box that’s at each county board of elections before the May primary and without as much time to install them.

Until that point, the local boards of election didn’t have any drop boxes. Pepper said now there is plenty of time to get more boxes installed before early voting begins Oct. 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 said.

Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper [Statehouse News Bureau]

The Ohio Democratic Party also asked the Franklin County Common Pleas Court to take action against the Ohio Republican Party after a tweet following the Wednesday ruling accused the judge in the case of colluding with the plaintiff and accused Ohio Democrats of “corruption and deceit.”

Pepper immediately denied he had any special treatment from the court and chastised the Ohio Republican Party for making such accusations.

“The Republican Party reaction is just downright unhinged," Pepper said.

Ohio Chief Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor, herself a Republican, also issued a condemnation of the state GOP’s tweet.

“No matter how the judge ruled, to accuse them of partisanship is just at the hearts of what I think are efforts to weaken the judiciary," O'Connor said in a press release.

The tweet has since been deleted.

The accusatory tweet from the Ohio Republican Party is no longer visible on the group's Twitter timeline. [Twitter screenshot / Statehouse News Bureau]

Hamilton County Board of Elections member Caleb Faux, a Democrat, said his local board voted 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 said.

More Ohioans than are voting absentee this year due to COVID-19, Faux said, and 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 said.

The drop box currently at Hamilton County Board of Elections [Tana Weingartner / WVXU]

In federal court, yet another case is also seeking more drop boxes for Ohio, brought by the A. William Randolph Institute, the League of Women Voters of Ohio, the Ohio NAACP and others.

The state has already had 1.4 million absentee ballots have been requested already – more than the total absentee ballots requested in 2016. LaRose said county boards are ready for November and have been putting a lot of safeguards in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while voting. And if voters cast absentee ballots right away, LaRose said problems with slow mail service can be easily avoided.

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

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