Breaking News

Ohio Democratic Party v. LaRose

Issues: Whether Ohio state law bars election officials from providing more than one absentee-ballot drop box per county, in light of the state's expected increase in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic.
State: Ohio
Court: Tenth District Ohio Court of Appeals
Status: Directive allowing additional drop boxes solely outside of elections board offices issued on Oct. 5 by Secretary of State Frank LaRose

This case centers on the deployment of drop boxes for voters in Ohio to deposit their absentee ballots after completing them. The Ohio Democratic Party and Lewis Goldfarb, a retired law professor, sued Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose in August to challenge LaRose’s directive that, although Ohio law allows the use of drop boxes, each county in the state can have only one drop box, which must be placed outside the county board of elections office. The challengers asked a state trial court to rule on whether Ohio law does in fact bar election officials from putting more than one drop box in each county. They noted that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as half of all voters are likely to use absentee ballots in the upcoming November elections. And they cited concerns that voters without cars could have trouble reaching a county’s lone drop box; even voters with cars, they added, might encounter long lines of traffic if there is just one drop box.

Judge Richard Frye ruled for the challengers on Sept. 15. Observing that the size of the state’s counties vary dramatically, in terms of both square miles and population, he concluded that LaRose acted “arbitrarily” in prohibiting election officials from installing additional drop boxes. He ruled that “every board of elections is legally permitted to consider enhancing safe and convenient delivery of absentee ballots and may tailor ballot drop box locations or conceivably other secure options to the needs of their individual county.”

LaRose appealed Frye’s decision; a state appeals court heard oral arguments on Sept. 25. A parallel lawsuit in federal court is on hold pending the state court’s decision.

The state’s intermediate appellate court ruled on Oct. 2 that although Ohio law does not require LaRose to limit drop boxes to one per county, the law also does not require him to allow more boxes. However, the court added, if LaRose wants to allow more boxes, he is free to do so. LaRose issued a directive on Oct. 5 to clarify that county elections boards could decide to install additional drop boxes outside their offices and to have employees outside the offices to collect absentee ballots. But under the directive, voters would still have to go to an elections board office — and only to an elections board office — to return their ballots.

Early voting began in Ohio on Oct. 6.