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Judge’s Ruling on Ohio Ballot Drop Box Locations Creates Confusion: Reporters’ Roundtable

Here is a rundown of topics for The Weekly Reporters Roundtable for October 9, 2020.
Here is a rundown of topics for The Weekly Reporters Roundtable for October 9, 2020.

Voting lawsuits, early voting, and the search for more poll workers begin our discussions on The Weekly Reporters Roundtable.  Later we talk about a militia plot broken up by FBI agents targeting Michigan’s governor, a plot driven by anger over pandemic health orders.  While here in Ohio, Governor DeWine says our numbers are again moving in the wrong direction.

The General Election is now less than five weeks away and it has led to increased activity at election boards and in the courts.

There is still a ton of confusion about where those who vote absentee, but don't want to mail in their ballots, can drop them off.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose ordered that drop boxes can be placed on the properties of Board of Elections in the state, disallowing a Cuyahoga County plan to have ballots collected at a number of local libraries. A constitutional challenge to that ruling landed in federal court in Cleveland, where last night U.S. District Judge Dan Pollster said LaRose's order was not consistent because he allowed, specifically in Cuyahoga County, a drop box near the board of elections but not on its property in the parking lot of Campus International School.

Pollster failed to see the difference between an off-site collection several feet away and collections at libraries several miles away. Off-site is off-site. So the plan to collect ballots starting October 13 is allowed, he said, and other counties can make off-site collection plans, too.

But it is likely not over.

As the drop box battle continues, early in-person voting began in Ohio Tuesday and it drew long lines of voters at Boards of Elections throughout the state, including in Cuyahoga County, where ideastream's Gabriel Kramer talked to voters.

Early voting continues weekdays at your board of elections and the two Saturdays, two Sundays and the Monday before Election Day.

Still, people wanted to cast ballots on day one Tuesday. Voters maintained social distance in Cuyahoga County, wore masks and had their temperature taken once inside the board.  The voting went peacefully. Still, county elections boards are training workers in de-escalation techniques if need be. Emotions are obviously high.

While absentee mail-voting has been making headlines due to the sheer number of early ballots requested, Secretary of State Frank LaRose says he expects there will be high numbers voting in-person as well, whether early or on Election Day.  The state says 50,000 people have applied to be poll workers, but because they needed to recruit so many more, another 17,000 are still needed.

An anti-government extremist militia plotted to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer at her vacation home in reaction to what they viewed as her "uncontrolled power." Some of them had planned, too, to storm the Michigan capital seeking a "civil war." The group hatched its plans, at least in part, in suburban Columbus, according to an FBI affidavit.

Six men face federal charges of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Seven others arrested face state anti-terrorism charges.  According to the FBI, the militia intended to recruit others to carry out its plans.

The group met in Dublin, Ohio this summer and another undisclosed location a few weeks later.  According to an informant who helped to scuttle the plot, the group also talked of several state governments that they believed were violating the U-S Constitution and acting as "tyrants."
Whitmer had been the target of angry protests by those upset about the stringent public health measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 in her state.

Meanwhile, Ohio's battle with coronavirus is currently headed in the wrong direction.
Governor Mike DeWine said at his regular press conference yesterday that more than 1500 new cases of the virus were reported in a single day.  The number pushes the daily rolling average upward.

The state's color-coded public health advisory system now puts 18 counties in the "red," or second highest level. There has not been that many counties in that classification since late July.  Cuyahoga and Franklin remain at orange, the third highest level, and so do 56 other counties. The governor says that's a high-mark we have not yet seen in the state.  DeWine says 96% of Ohio's population live in the counties that are in the orange and red designations on the public health advisory system.

In our second segment, we visit with Northeast Ohio based National Political Reporter for Buzzfeed News, Henry Gomez. We will discuss the uncertainty around the next presidential debate and the campaigns' strategies in Ohio. Many consider it crucial, but the Trump campaign is canceling ad buys here.

  • Karen Kasler, Statehouse New Bureau Chief, Ohio Public Radio/TV
  • Nick Castele, Reporter, Ideastream
  • Henry Gomez, National Political Reporter, BuzzFeed News