Ohio Court Says Use Of Ballot Drop Boxes Can Be Expanded

CAMBRIDGE, OH - NOVEMBER 06: Stickers at the Guernsey County Senior Center polling location on November 6, 2018 in Cambridge, Ohio. Turnout is expected to be high nationwide as Democrats hope to take back control of ... CAMBRIDGE, OH - NOVEMBER 06: Stickers at the Guernsey County Senior Center polling location on November 6, 2018 in Cambridge, Ohio. Turnout is expected to be high nationwide as Democrats hope to take back control of at least one chamber of Congress. (Photo by Justin Merriman/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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September 15, 2020 1:38 p.m.

In a setback for the Republicans who have fought the use of ballot drop boxes in battleground states, a court in Ohio issued an opinion Tuesday allowing for the expansion of the option.

Judge Richard Frye, of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, said that state law permits county election officials to set up drop boxes at locations other than the county board of elections offices. He called the guidance issued by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) restricting the use of drop boxes elsewhere “arbitrary and unreasonable.”

LaRose, when he announced the guidance last month, said that he wasn’t opposed to using drop boxes in theory, but that he did not believe that Ohio state law allowed for the drop boxes to be set up in locations other than the county offices. He said he had reached out to Ohio Attorney General David Yost (R) for his opinion on the matter, but never received a response.

Yost’s office did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on the new opinion. The Ohio GOP, which intervened in the lawsuit to argue against expanding drop box use, also did not respond to a TPM request for comment.

The state court lawsuit was brought by the Ohio Democratic Party. Voting rights groups, meanwhile have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the restrictions on dropbox use. The Trump campaign is currently trying to intervene in that lawsuit to defend the limitations.

The state court has not yet ruled on the preliminary injunction the Democrats were seeking to block LaRose’s directive limiting the use of drop boxes.

Referring to the federal case, Judge Frye noted in his opinion, “The Secretary has stated publicly he supports additional drop boxes if they are legal; and his lawyer represented on the record in the Northern District of Ohio that his client would abide by a state court ruling.”

It appears, however, that LaRose will not be backing down from the restrictions absent a a formal order blocking his guidance.

“Importantly, while the judge issued a declaration as to the law regarding the return of absentee ballots and drop boxes, he did not rule on the Plaintiff’s request to enjoin the Secretary’s Directive,” LaRose’s spokesperson, Maggie Sheehan, said in a statement. “Lacking that, today’s ruling didn’t change anything and the Secretary’s Directive remains in place. The law is clear: absentee ballots must be delivered by mail or personally deliver[ed] to the director’ of their county board of elections and ‘in no other manner’. Ohioans are fortunate that the judicial branch offers the opportunity to appeal a single trial judge’s opinion.”

Ohio isn’t the only place where drop boxes — a well-established practice in many states where vote-by-mail was common before the pandemic — have become controversial during the pandemic.

The Trump campaign and RNC are suing in federal court to end their use in Pennsylvania’s election, and the limitations on their use that have been issued by New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D) are also being challenged in court. (Though Gardner is ostensibly a Democrat, he is often aligned with New Hampshire Republicans when it comes to voting issues.)

Read the opinion in the Ohio case below:

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

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