Judge overturns Ohio Secretary of State’s directive allowing only one ballot drop box per county

Andrew Trunsky, DCNF

An Ohio county judge overturned a directive that allocated only one absentee ballot drop box in each county, ruling Tuesday that it was unreasonable and unnecessary.

The ruling, issued by Franklin County Judge Richard Frye, invalidated the directive issued by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, whose office said that it would appeal if the ruling is invalidated, NBC News reported.

The ruling itself does not change anything. Frye would have to issue an additional order invalidating LaRose’s directive, according to LaRose spokesperson Maggie Sheehan, who said in a statement that “the Secretary’s directive remains in place.”

A record number of voters have turned to absentee voting amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, making access to ballot drop boxes a pressing issue for voters in states across the country.

Under LaRose’s order, Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland and some surrounding suburbs, would have one ballot drop box for its over 850,000 registered voters, while some voters in rural counties would have sizable commutes to drop off their ballot, according to NBC News.

LaRose’s order also prohibited county election boards from installing additional ballot drop boxes, leading the Ohio Democratic Party and other voting rights groups to sue him in August.

While the Secretary of State said that he personally supports counties adding more drop boxes, he lacks the authority to allow them to do so, referencing a state law that says that absentee ballots must be delivered “by mail or personally” to a voter’s respective county elections director, NBC News reported.

In his ruling, Frye said that the word “deliver” was ambiguous, saying that “it does not squarely answer whether drop boxes are permitted, or if so how many boxes can be used, or where they may be located by a board of elections.”

As a result, Frye said, counties have the ability to add additional drop boxes if they find it necessary, NBC News reported.

“While the secretary has broad discretion to issue Directives and otherwise guide local boards of elections, his actions must be reasonable to be legally enforceable,” he wrote.

Frye’s ruling is the third in the last week to go against LaRose. A county judge ordered him to allow voters to request an absentee ballot online instead of by mail if they so choose, the Associated Press reported, and on Monday the state Controlling Board barred him from using his office’s funds to pay for the postage on every mail-in ballot sent throughout the state, according to NBC News.

So far, a record 1.4 million Ohio voters have requested an absentee ballot, according to a local Dayton outlet.

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