Policy Summary: On September 15, 2020 Judge Richard A. Frey of the Court of Common Pleas of Franklin County, Ohio issued an opinion in the case Ohio Democratic Party v. LaRose. That case was brought in response to the use of “ballot drop boxes” in each Ohio county.

Frank LaRose is the Ohio Secretary of State which puts him in charge of the conduct of elections in the State of Ohio. According to state law each Ohio county is required to provide one secure receptacle for the receipt of absentee ballots in each county. The ballot boxes are designed to only receive ballots and not other pieces of mail. The law also requires that the ballot boxes be monitored 24/7 and that ballots are to be retrieved jointly with at least one Republican and one Democratic board of elections member daily. With this framework of state law in place, Secretary of State LaRose issued Directive 2020-16 on August 12, 2020. The Directive was sent to every Ohio county board of elections and included a statement that read, “Boards of elections are prohibited from installing a drop box at any other location other than the board of elections.” The result of this directive was that each county in Ohio was limited to only having one ballot drop box per county. After the issuance of the directive the Ohio Democratic Party and a coalition of voting rights groups sued Secretary LaRose to challenge his directive that limited each county to only one ballot drop box. In his opinion Judge Frey struck down Directive 2020-16 and called the order limiting each county to one ballot drop box “arbitrary and unreasonable.” LEARN MORE

Policy Analysis: The situation in Ohio is yet another feature in the ongoing national discussion about the use of absentee ballots to vote in the November 2020 election. While the discussion on the use of absentee ballots had been focused on claims of fraud, the accepted legal excuse to vote absentee and the technical requirements for a valid absentee ballot (use of affidavits, residency requirements for college students) this case is one that is focusing on the use of ballot drop boxes.

One argument on having more ballot drop boxes installed is because Ohio’s eighty – eight counties are different and only having one ballot drop box per county does not take into consideration population differences and distances that might have to be traveled just to reach the one ballot drop box. A rural county could probably handle having only one ballot drop box but larger urban areas might need more than one to handle absentee ballots that might come close to numbering in the millions. This is a very real possibility in the midst of an ongoing pandemic where people have been sheltering at home. And having only one ballot drop box might require some voters to commute as long as two hours just to drop their ballot in the designated drop box. By not installing more ballot drop boxes, Secretary LaRose’s Directive has made it burdensome and onerous for some voters to vote with their absentee ballot.

Voting should not be so cumbersome or complex but unfortunately this situation came down to partisan politics. Ohio has been and will likely be a swing state this November and that partisan divide was exposed over the issue of ballot drop boxes. Secretary LaRose is a Republican and his actions have been seen as voter suppression tactics despite claiming otherwise in a number of public pronouncements. He has claimed to not have legal authority to add additional boxes. Yet when the Attorney General of Ohio did not take a side on the state law the Secretary decided to stay with one ballot box per county when he could have issued the order for more ballot drop boxes. When the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections tried to install six more ballot boxes on their own in their county Secretary LaRose decided to step in and ordered the county to cease installing more ballot boxes. These actions gave the impression of a partisan motivation to help Republicans and their candidates in the state rather than helping all voters cast their ballots regardless of their political preference. With the issuance of Judge Frey’s order in the case it seems likely that Ohio can now proceed and help voters have their absentee ballots counted come November 2020. Although the issue might not be over as a lawsuit in federal district court in Pennsylvania has been placed on hold and a case in federal district court in Ohio is also ongoing. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE

Engagement Resources:

NPR’s 2020 Election: Secure Your Vote Series – latest article on usage of ballot drop boxes from National Public Radio’s special 2020 Voting Rights series.

Election Assistance Commission (EAC) – infopage on guidelines the Election Assistance Commission recommends on the use of ballot drop boxes.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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