(The Center Square) – Where Ohio voters can return absentee ballots continues to be a moving target after a federal judge struck down a state order that stopped county boards of election from establishing multiple ballot drop box sites.
Maggie Sheehan, a spokesperson for Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, said the secretary will appeal.
“Voting has begun, and Ohio’s elections are safe, secure and accessible,” Sheehan said. “The place to make changes in how we run our elections is the Statehouse, not the courthouse.
At the same time, U.S. District Judge Dan Polster granted a request from voting-rights advocates, including the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, to reopen its lawsuit. Polster said he had mistakenly dismissed the lawsuit earlier this week because of a recent directive from LaRose.
On Monday, LaRose issued a directive that said election officials are able to collect absentee ballots outside of county board of election offices. State officials said that directive meant outside of the building, on or near office property, rather than at public libraries where Cleveland election officials had wanted.
“The Secretary is continuing to restrict boards from implementing off-site collection, and he appears to be doing so in an arbitrary manner. The Court has given the Secretary every opportunity to address the problem … and he has been unwilling or unable to do so,” Polster wrote.
“All of this conduct flies in the face of Defendant LaRose’s previous statements that he would like to authorize multiple drop boxes in every county if the law allows it. Which the law does,” the judge wrote.
LaRose asked Polster to stay any decision in order to appeal. However, the judge said no.
“The Court will not issue a stay. As stated above, we are in the middle of 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 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.
Earlier this month, the 10th District Court of Appeals upheld a trial court ruling that said Ohio law neither prohibited nor required ballot drop box locations away from boards of election, meaning LaRose could allow off-site boxes if he wanted.
An Ohio native, J.D. Davidson is a veteran journalist with more than 30 years of experience in newspapers in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Texas. He has served as a reporter, editor, managing editor and publisher.