Ohio GOP, Democrats Spar Over Number of Ballot Drop Boxes

Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — The state of Ohio and various Republican groups asked a state appeals court Friday to toss a lower court’s approval of multiple ballot drop boxes for the upcoming presidential election.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive Aug. 12 restricting counties to one ballot drop box each, located at the counties’ boards of election. Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, said it would allow drop boxes at each of its six public libraries, a move that was halted by litigation.

Last week, Judge Richard Frye of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court sided with the Ohio Democratic Party and ruled counties are not limited to one drop box. 

LaRose appealed to Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals, joined by the Trump for America campaign, the Ohio Republican Party, the Republican National Committee and the Republican Congressional Committee. 

Stephen Carney argued for the state that Frye overstepped his authority when he blocked LaRose’s decision. Carney argued the number of boxes in each county must be uniform to be fair, and that lawmakers failed to address ballot drop boxes when they passed a law in the spring requiring the ballots to be mailed or personally dropped at the board of elections. He said LaRose expanded the statute to allow one drop box, filling in the gaps left by the Legislature. 

Judge Susan Brown asked whether LaRose had the authority to do so. 

“Sure, because the secretary of state is given power to issue directives, and he or she always fills in the gaps as long as they don’t go against the statue,” Carney replied. “The only time the courts have found a problem is when it violates the statute or a constitutional provision.” 

He went on to argue that the boards of election have the power to make rules as long as it doesn’t go against a directive or advisory by the secretary. 

“It’s telling the boards that, in the hierarchy of things, you have to obey the secretary and the secretary has to obey the statute,” Carney argued. 

He further explained that if LaRose did not limit the number of drop boxes, each board would be subject to infighting as to the placement of the boxes as well as additional financial burdens for the boxes and their security.

Edward Carter, representing the Ohio Republican Party, argued along with Carney. He said the only way the issue of additional drop boxes can be questioned is if LaRose had improperly interpreted the law. The only way this could be, Carter argued, is if someone had challenged whether the drop boxes are allowed at all under the statute. But Republicans, he said, are not saying there should be no drop boxes.

Arguing for the Ohio Democratic Party, Corey Colombo said that since the law is silent on the issue of drop boxes, it does not prohibit the number of drop boxes. Judge Betsy Luper Schuster questioned this, asking if LaRose lacks authority to restrict the number of boxes.

“So he can implement the law, why couldn’t he pick to limit the boxes to one location?” she asked. 

Colombo pointed to LaRose’s actions: He first asked the attorney general, then made public remarks indicating he didn’t know how many drop boxes are allowed, then said he would make a decision on the number himself because the election is approaching.

“History shows that there wasn’t a reasonable interpretation here, and the process of how this came about makes this unreasonable,” Colombo said. 

He further argued that LaRose misinterpreted the law and lacked authority to limit the number of boxes. 

He also reminded the court that Judge Frye heard from 20 witnesses before ruling in the case.

Stephen Carney is from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. Edward Carter is from the firm Jones Day. Corey Colombo is with the firm McTigue & Colombo. 

Neither side’s lawyers returned requests for comment by press time.

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