A federal appeals court on Friday agreed to at least temporarily reinstate Ohio’s limit on ballot drop boxes in a move that voting rights advocates say infringes on Ohioans ability to cast their ballots, while it considers whether to make a more permanent ruling on the case.
U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Richard Griffin and Amul Thapar in an order Friday night pushed back on a Thursday decision from a federal judge in Cleveland who struck down the drop box limit as unconstitutional after early voting was already underway.
“Notably, Ohio voters are not required to use a ballot drop box to vote,” they wrote in Friday’s ruling after voting rights advocates brought a lawsuit challenging Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s move to limit ballot drop boxes to one per county saying more would be illegal based on his understanding of state law.
Judges Griffin and Thapar sided with LaRose who said that additional ballot drop boxes could create unnecessary security risks. The court struck down claims that limiting drop off boxes was unconstitutional on the basis of impeding voting rights saying the move caused “at most an inconvenience to a subset of voters.”
“Moreover, the State cannot be faulted for these voters’ choice to not take advantage of the other avenues available to them to cast their ballot,” the judges wrote.
The ruling means that the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections will not be able to go forward with its plans to install ballot drop off boxes at staffed locations in six county libraries, per Cleveland.com.
Friday’s ruling noted that the late stage move was not supported by legal precedent which has not historically favored last minute alterations to election procedure, noting that LaRose decided in August to limit drop boxes.
“We conclude that LaRose has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on appeal,” the judges wrote.
In a statement hailing the ruling, LaRose said that voters in the week leading up to the decision had “enthusiastically demonstrated how easy it is to vote in Ohio.”
“The higher court’s opinion only reinforces Ohio’s standing as a leader in accessible and secure voting options.”
Voting rights advocates and some local elections officials had pressed LaRose to allow additional drop boxes, saying more drop off locations would help reduce heavy traffic at their elections office.
LaRose has argued, however that making changes so close to the election could create confusion for voters and provide a platform for parties to challenge the results of the election.
Breaking with her colleagues, circuit Judge Helene White appeared to agree with voting rights advocates who brought the lawsuit saying the drop boxes pose no security concerns.
“The Secretary has not shown that the proposed locations at the libraries staffed by elections officials will undermine the security and order of the election. Nor has the Secretary shown that the plan will lead to voter confusion. Any confusion is a result of the Secretary’s changing positions,” White said.
While Griffin and White were appointed by George W. Bush, Thapar is an an appointee of President Donald Trump.
The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have LaRose’s drop box limit in an effort that has extended to a number of states — especially in battleground areas — to limit mail-in voting. The state’s Democratic Party while not involved in the federal case sued LaRose in state court over the same issue.
Read the Friday order from the appeals court below: