What you need to know about Ohio drop box restrictions

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A flurry of sometimes conflicting court rulings on Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s directive restricting the boxes to one per county, combined with steps LaRose has taken attempting to clarify the issue, have made it more confusing.

Posted: Oct 13, 2020 5:46 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — How many drop boxes can each Ohio county set up for collecting absentee ballots cast in the November presidential election, and where can they be located? It’s a seemingly simple question with a complicated answer.

A flurry of sometimes conflicting court rulings on Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s directive restricting the boxes to one per county, combined with steps LaRose has taken attempting to clarify the issue, have made it more confusing.

All with Election Day just three weeks off. The issue is now before a federal court in Cleveland.

Here’s a look at where things currently stand:

Q: WHAT DID THE INITIAL DIRECTIVE SAY?

A: The first directive, issued on Aug. 12, prohibited installing drop boxes “at any other location other than the board of elections.” All references were to a singular box, not multiple boxes, which the order defined as “a secure receptacle outside the office for the return of ballots.”

Ohio has seen a record number of absentee ballot requests in 2020, more than 2.1 million in the presidential battleground state as of the first day of early voting last week. In Ohio, completed ballots can be turned in by mail, in person or at a drop box.

Q: WHAT PROMPTED THE DIRECTIVE?

A: LaRose, who oversees state elections, was getting questions about whether counties could set up multiple drop boxes, an option growing in popularity as absentee and mail-in ballot use increases nationally due to the coronavirus.

Ohio state lawmakers had passed an emergency coronavirus bill in March that required every county to set up a single secure drop box as a convenience during the April 7 primary.

The language was designed to be temporary, but many people — including LaRose and some county election officials — were unclear on whether the provision still applied to the general election and whether it was meant to be a limit or not.

Q: HOW WAS ONE DROP BOX SETTLED ON?

A: On July 20, LaRose asked Republican Attorney General Dave Yost for legal advice settling the issue. LaRose rescinded that request on Aug. 11, saying it was taking too long and boards needed an answer now. (Yost’s office has said the opinion was imminent.)

Ultimately, LaRose, a former state senator, said the Legislature makes policy and he would defer to the last position lawmakers had taken on the matter. He used the exact language from the March legislation that specified a single drop box, but further prohibited having more than one.

At a Statehouse news conference, LaRose called additional drop boxes “a fine idea” but said he feared deviating from the March legislation would prompt litigation. He also worried multiple boxes could present a security risk and burden election boards already swamped with new responsibilities amid the virus.

Q: DIDN’T LAROSE GET SUED ANYWAY?

A: Yes. The first suit was filed by the Ohio Democratic Party on Aug. 25. Democrats argued that LaRose’s order unnecessarily impeded the right to vote during a pandemic and in a manner not required under state law.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and other Republican committees jumped in to defend the order. The trial judge sided with Democrats, declaring LaRose’s order “unreasonable and arbitrary” and blocking it.

The state’s 10th District Court of Appeals unblocked it until it could hear the case. A three-judge panel of the court agreed with Democrats’ legal arguments in an Oct. 2 ruling: The order was unreasonable and LaRose was not beholden to abide by that temporary March law.

But they also said that while the order might be misguided, it wasn’t illegal. They declined to require LaRose to change it.

Q: HOW DID LAROSE RESPOND?

A: LaRose issued a new directive on Oct. 5 cast as a “clarification” of the earlier order, telling county election boards that the earlier order “never prohibited and does not prohibit a board of elections from installing more than one secure receptacle outside the office of the board of elections.”

The phrase “outside the board of elections” was italicized in bold, prompting more questions. Was it broad permission to collect ballots off board property, an essential reversal of the initial order? LaRose’s office said no: More than one box would now be allowed but only “outside” on board property.

Q: SO HOW DID THIS LAND IN FEDERAL COURT?

A: The A. Philip Randolph Institute, a civil rights group founded by Black union members, filed a separate federal suit in Cleveland in late August along with other voting rights groups. Judge Dan Polster had paused that suit waiting to see what the state courts would say.

He ordered LaRose to try to work things out in the meantime. Through those negotiations, LaRose agreed on Sept. 28 to allow the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to set up an additional drop box across the street from its building, off board property. LaRose rejected the board’s plan to also collect ballots at six public libraries throughout the county.

Q: WHERE DOES THE FEDERAL SUIT STAND?

A: The day after LaRose issued his new order, Polster weighed in. He interpreted “outside” a board of elections as broadly permitting drop boxes at multiple locations throughout each of Ohio’s 88 counties, partly because LaRose had already permitted a drop box off a board’s property. He dismissed the voting groups’ lawsuit, saying their concerns appeared to be remedied.

But LaRose’s office said the order had been misinterpreted. He ordered the election board not to proceed with its library plan. Following a plea by the plaintiffs, Polster agreed to reconsider the case and again blocked the order. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has allowed the order to remain in effect while Polster reconsiders his earlier ruling.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 164581

Reported Deaths: 4143
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion26055792
Lake14436358
St. Joseph9606168
Elkhart9271138
Allen8647231
Hamilton6400115
Vanderburgh617162
Tippecanoe396715
Porter347550
Hendricks3418134
Monroe335638
Johnson3286130
Delaware311575
Clark306263
Vigo275340
Madison250896
LaPorte239261
Cass229724
Warrick205065
Kosciusko201127
Floyd187468
Howard169466
Bartholomew147958
Marshall147428
Dubois146426
Wayne142031
Grant133539
Henry133030
Boone129150
Hancock124744
Noble122935
Jackson121018
Dearborn103128
Morgan100340
Lawrence96838
Gibson94412
Clinton92416
Daviess92334
Shelby90632
LaGrange82815
Knox81810
Harrison81024
Posey7767
Putnam77616
Fayette76719
DeKalb76011
Jasper6885
Miami6715
Steuben6608
Montgomery63122
White62316
Greene57838
Adams5607
Scott55413
Decatur52839
Ripley4838
Whitley4836
Clay4617
Sullivan45714
Wells45611
Huntington4455
Starke4438
Wabash4439
Orange42425
Spencer4176
Randolph39210
Jennings38713
Washington3873
Franklin38325
Fulton3785
Perry36914
Jefferson3655
Pike35718
Carroll34313
Jay3386
Fountain3293
Tipton28423
Vermillion2721
Parke2564
Rush2464
Blackford2394
Newton23711
Owen2151
Martin2050
Pulaski1783
Crawford1631
Brown1473
Ohio1337
Union1140
Benton1130
Switzerland980
Warren911
Unassigned0236

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 200231

Reported Deaths: 5217
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin32468642
Cuyahoga20452685
Hamilton17564344
Montgomery10959190
Butler8727131
Lucas8549375
Summit6978269
Warren446566
Stark4045182
Mahoning3863287
Marion345650
Pickaway309246
Delaware299728
Lorain286289
Fairfield284257
Licking274367
Clark263157
Clermont262238
Wood262082
Greene249942
Trumbull2380134
Allen228974
Columbiana218588
Miami213258
Lake206959
Medina197242
Portage172468
Mercer159629
Wayne155871
Ross148939
Richland143024
Tuscarawas138627
Athens12812
Erie119454
Darke119051
Hancock113327
Putnam112527
Auglaize110618
Madison108115
Lawrence98525
Shelby96414
Muskingum9534
Scioto9219
Geauga89850
Belmont81127
Union7993
Ashtabula76048
Sandusky74022
Huron72915
Holmes71611
Preble67718
Seneca63614
Ottawa61030
Fulton57115
Henry53117
Crawford5268
Clinton50613
Defiance50513
Jefferson4994
Jackson4928
Highland4756
Fayette46110
Logan4573
Ashland4359
Knox42516
Champaign4233
Brown4103
Morrow3872
Perry38511
Washington38124
Hardin36713
Williams3664
Guernsey3658
Coshocton34412
Pike3340
Gallia30613
Wyandot30313
Van Wert2905
Paulding2392
Adams2266
Carroll2217
Meigs21412
Hocking2129
Monroe17818
Noble1660
Vinton1093
Harrison863
Morgan830
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