COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Democrats sued the state’s election chief Tuesday seeking to force an expansion of ballot dropboxes ahead of the November election.
The complaint filed against Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose outlines what Democrats see as an urgent need to expand the number of secure voter dropboxes in Ohio’s 88 counties. County election boards maintain single dropboxes at each board location as an alternative to mailing in an absentee ballot.
The lawsuit comes two weeks after LaRose issued a directive that prohibited election boards from installing dropboxes anywhere but the board location, effectively limiting the number of boxes to one per county. Voting advocates have promoted the use of dropboxes as a key tool to delivering absentee ballots to election boards during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The complaint we filed today makes clear that nothing in Ohio law prevents counties and the Secretary of State from expanding dropboxes within their respective counties,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a statement Tuesday.
Pepper accused LaRose’s directive of hindering voters in a way that “is not consistent with Ohio statute,” using the example that Cuyahoga County, with more than 860,000 registered voters, has only one dropbox.
“Secretary LaRose has been and continues to be supportive of legislation that permits additional options for voters to return their absentee ballots,” LaRose’s spokesperson Maggie Sheehan said in a response to the lawsuit Tuesday. “As an executive office holder, he must follow the law as the legislature writes it.”
The state party leader also made note that many Republican-led states, like Georgia and Utah, as well as Democratic-run states, depend on dropboxes during a normal election year.
In a letter to LaRose last week, legislative Democrats contended that the election chief already has both the power and the authorization he needs to add dropboxes and to pay ballot postage.
The legislators noted that the Controlling Board already approved LaRose covering eligible election expenses from CARES Act money back in June. They noted that the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has issued guidance listing postage among eligible uses of that federal COVID-19 relief money.
LaRose responded to criticism from Democrats last Tuesday by saying his “innovative solution” for paying postage would help make “every mailbox a dropbox for millions of Ohioans, making it easier than ever to cast a ballot in a general election.”
He plans to ask the Controlling Board to approve $3 million in funds from his office's Business Services Division for the postage. His office doesn’t expect the costs of postage to exceed $2 million.
Associated Press writer Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed to this report. Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.