Federal Judge Allows Multiple Off-Site Ballot Drop Boxes; LaRose Appeals

Campus International High School at the corner of Chester Avenue and E. 30th St. in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Secretary of State's order allowing a ballot drop off site in the parking lot of Campus International High School factored prominently into Judge Polster's decision. [ideastream]

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Updated: 10:55 a.m., Friday, October 9, 2020

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections is free to move forward with its plan to collect ballots at six local libraries, a federal judge ruled Thursday evening.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster reopened the case brought by the A. Philip Randolph Institute challenging Secretary of State Frank LaRose's order limiting drop boxes to the property of boards of elections in Ohio.

“The Secretary has not advanced any legitimate reason to prohibit a county board of elections from utilizing off-site drop boxes and/or off-site delivery of ballots to staff,” Polster wrote in his order granting an injunction to LaRose’s directive.

Noting that early voting is already underway, Polster wrote that the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections may begin collecting ballots off site as planned beginning Oct. 13 and “other county boards may now vote to implement plans for off-site collection, and it is time for this litigation to end.”

LaRose’s office has filed a notice of appeal with the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

“Voting has begun, and Ohio’s elections are safe, secure, and accessible,” LaRose spokesperson Maggie Sheehan said in a written statement. “The place to make changes in how we run our elections is the statehouse, not the courthouse.”

The secretary of state on Oct. 1 approved the Cuyahoga County board’s plan to collect ballots at a secondary location in the parking lot of Campus International High School, a block north and across the street from the board’s headquarters. But the secretary of state continued to block a plan for library drop-off sites that would be overseen by a bipartisan team.

Polster pointed to the lack of consistency in the secretary of state’s directives.

“If ‘outside the office of the board of elections’ means only outside on the board’s premises, then it doesn’t permit collection one block away and across the street,” he wrote. “It appears the Secretary has arbitrarily drawn the ‘outside’ boundary somewhere beyond a board’s premises but not as far as a library a few miles away.”

In his decision, the judge said LaRose’s directive allowing drop boxes only on board of elections properties is unfair, particularly in larger counties, and the secretary of state hasn’t presented evidence to show multiple drop boxes would pose a security risk.

Polster also declined to stay his injunction pending appeal, pointing to the “worst pandemic in a century coupled with reasonable concern over the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to handle what will undoubtedly be the largest number of absentee voters in Ohio’s history.”

The Cuyahoga County Board of Elections declined to comment due to ongoing litigation. It is not a party in the lawsuit.

 

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Statehouse News Bureau's Jo Ingles contributed to this story.

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