The directive only allows multiple drop-off boxes at the same site, drawing criticism from Democrats and voting rights advocates.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose decided Monday to allow counties to install multiple absentee ballot drop boxes for the November election, but they must be located on the properties of election boards.
The directive follows a ruling by Ohio’s 10th District Court of Appeals, which found Friday that state law gives the secretary of state power to allow more than one ballot drop-off box in each county but does not require multiple boxes. The court also clarified that the law does not limit the location of those drop boxes.
LaRose, a Republican, instructed that “secure receptacles must be located only outside the board of elections,” and that those receptacles must be checked often, to ensure they do not overflow.
The directive also allows board employees to “collect ballots outside the office of the board of elections” and personally deliver the ballots to be counted.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper called LaRose out for issuing a directive that only allows multiple drop-off boxes at the same site.
“Frank LaRose pledged publicly that he would allow expanded dropbox locations if he were allowed under Ohio law. We proved our case, and he lost, showing that dropboxes are permitted in multiple locations in Ohio counties,” Pepper said in a statement. “Now he’s going back on his word with a transparent, cynical ploy.”
The Ohio Voter Rights Coalition also blasted the secretary of state’s announcement.
“Having two or more drop boxes at the same location does nothing to help voters who live a distance from the board of elections in their county,” the group said. “It does nothing to help prevent congestion and traffic back ups at busy [boards of elections]. It does nothing to help voters who are concerned with using the United States Postal Service to return ballot applications and ballots.”
In August, LaRose restricted counties to one absentee ballot drop box each, located outside the board of elections building. Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, had said it would allow drop boxes at each of its six public libraries.
After a lawsuit was filed challenging the restriction, Judge Richard Frye of the Franklin County Common Pleas Court sided with the Ohio Democratic Party and ruled that counties are not limited to one drop box.
LaRose appealed to the 10th District Court of Appeals, joined by President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, the Ohio Republican Party, Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.
On Friday, the appeals court agreed that the number or the location of drop boxes was not specified in state law, but reversed an injunction by Frye requiring LaRose to allow multiple drop boxes.
“The statute neither prescribes nor prohibits ballot drop boxes at locations other than the boards of elections,” the ruling states. “We find that while the secretary was not statutorily required to limit the location of the drop boxes . . . he was also not statutorily required to allow additional drop boxes.”
In recent weeks, LaRose has argued that he didn’t want to add drop boxes so close to the election because it would be costly and confusing.
At this time, it is unclear whether the state will appeal the 10th District’s ruling to the Ohio Supreme Court.
A second, similar lawsuit was filed in federal court by the A. Philip Randolph Institute.
U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster had delayed his decision until the 10th District Court of Appeals made its ruling.
Voter registration in Ohio ends on Monday and early voting begins Tuesday.