COLUMBUS, Ohio – A directive restricting Ohio counties to a ballot box in November was arbitrary and unreasonable, a county judge ruled Tuesday, delivering the Republican secretary of state in the president’s battlefield another in a series of battles against his policies.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office said he would soon appeal the decision made by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye, provided the judge follows up and cancels the secretary’s drop-box order.
For now, Frye’s decision does not change anything, LaRose spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan said in a written statement, “and the secretary̵
Access to ballot papers has become an urgent issue nationally, with options for personal voting limited by the coronavirus pandemic and the efficiency and security of postal polling being questioned by cuts at the US Postal Service.
It is often the largely democratic cities – like Cuyahoga, home to Cleveland – that seem to be expanding the number of drop boxes. Cuyahoga is to serve more than 860,000 registered voters with only a single box under LaRose’s order.
The Democratic Party of Ohio and a coalition of the suffrage group sued LaRose last month over the directive, calling it unconstitutional. It banned constituencies from installing more than one drop-box located at the county election, effectively keeping the boxes to the number of lawmakers made available in Ohio’s presidential election.
LaRose cited a state election law that says absentee ballots must be “delivered by mail or in person” to a constituency’s election director. He has said he personally supports counties that add more drop-boxes, but that he lacks the legal authority to expand the number beyond what is stipulated in the law.
But Frye said the wording of the law makes “deliver” ambiguous: “It does not quite answer whether drop boxes are allowed, or if so, how many boxes can be used or where they can be placed by an electoral council.”
Because the law is vague, Frye said, counties should be legally allowed to explore the location of additional boxes.
“While the secretary has broad discretion to issue directives and otherwise direct the local electoral commissions, his actions must be reasonable to be legally enforceable,” Frye wrote. “Absolutely arbitrary rules are entitled to no reference.”
In response to the decision, State Democratic Party chairman David Pepper called for LaRose to step down.
“It is time for the Secretary of State to do what he has told the public and officials that he would do,” Pepper tweeted. “No more delays. No more appeals. No more wasted time. ”
The Dropbox decision was the third issue facing LaRose since Friday, when a county judge ordered him to allow voters to apply for an absentee ballot in the November presidential election electronically, including by fax or email. This decision was postponed Saturday as an appeal continues.
On Monday, Republicans in the powerful state board voted against LaRose’s proposal to use funds from his office’s business services budget to pay postage at every mail-in vote in the state.
Meanwhile, election officials across the president’s battlefield state in Wisconsin rushed to send absentee ballots Tuesday less than 24 hours after the state Supreme Court lifted a temporary freeze on the broadcast, while it is considered a legal challenge.
“Oh, we’re busy,” said Wendy Helgeson, a Greenville clerk who also serves as president of the Wisconsin Municipal Clerks Association.
More than 1,850 clerks in large and small municipalities worked to meet a Thursday deadline in state law to send ballots to the more than 1 million voters who had so far requested them. Absent ballot papers can be requested until October 29, but election officials have urged voters to act faster given the expected large numbers and delays in the post.