Lawsuits Go On In Ohio Over Drop Boxes, Signatures And Electronic Ballot Requests
There are four different lawsuits pending right now over Ohio’s voting processes. They range from the way absentee ballot requests can be made to how mail-in ballots can be returned to boards of elections.
THE BATTLE OVER BALLOT DROP BOXES
There is currently one drop box in all of Ohio’s 88 counties. They are located at the board of elections. The drop boxes were put at those locations prior to this past primary. Voters who complete paper ballots can choose to go to their county board and deposit their ballot in the secure drop box instead of putting it in the mail.
Mail-in ballot interest in this year’s election is high. Already the number of mail in ballots requested (1.4 million at this point) has surpassed the 1.2 million ballot requests received in all of 2016. And early voting doesn’t start till October 6.
Democrats and voter rights groups say it’s important to have more drop boxes in larger counties where there are more voters and where the one drop box that's currently at the board of elections is difficult for voters who lack transportation to access.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has sent mixed signals about drop boxes. First, he indicated he’d like to install more if he had the ability to do so without legislative approval. He asked for an opinion from Attorney General Dave Yost. But just before Yost was set to give his opinion, LaRose withdrew his request. Instead, LaRose told boards of elections they couldn’t install additional drop boxes for the November election.
LaRose’s decision caused controversy for many reasons. Those who were pushing for more drop boxes point out recent changes at the U.S. Postal Service could slow mail delivery. And they noted drop boxes provide another COVID safe option for voters. Ultimately, two different lawsuits were filed.
Ohio Democratic Party -vs- Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said he filed this lawsuit to answer the question about whether Secretary of State LaRose has the legal authority to allow more drop boxes to be installed without legislative approval. Pepper says the hope was that LaRose, who had said publicly that he liked the idea of having drop boxes, would use the ruling as a legal basis to allow more drop boxes. That’s not what happened.
Upon the court’s ruling that LaRose could and should allow more drop boxes, LaRose’s office put out a statement saying the court didn’t issue an injunction demanding it and said he would appeal at the first opportunity. So, the following day, that same court ruling issued the injunction, demanding LaRose allow more drop boxes. He immediately appealed. The court put a stay on the order during the appeal.
A. PHILIP RANDOLPH INSTITUTE OF OHIO, LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF OHIO, OHIO STATE CONFERENCE OF THE NAACP, BEATRICE GRIFFIN, SARAH RIKLEEN, C. ELLEN CONNALLY, MATTHEW NOWLING, RYLLIE JESIONOWSKI, SOLI COLLINS, and MARCUS GERMANY – vs – Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State
This lawsuit argues Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose must add drop boxes so Ohio voters, especially those who are low-income or minorities, have a safe way to return their absentee ballots. The groups bringing this lawsuit say drop boxes should be based on population, noting that one drop box in a large county is not the same as one drop box in a smaller county. The federal court is set to consider this argument on September 23, 2020.
There's additional controversy associated with the battle over drop boxes
After the Franklin County Court’s initial ruling on drop boxes on September 16, 2020, the Ohio Republican Party tweeted an allegation that the court had colluded with ODP Chair Pepper in the course of that ruling. That unsubstantiated allegation prompted rebuke from many, including Republican Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor. When asked whether Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken had approved of the comment, Evan Machan, communications director for the party responded saying, “you can attribute that statement to me.” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Pepper asked the court to take action against the Ohio Republican Party. The tweet in question has since been removed.
Lawsuit over online ballot requests
Ohio Democratic Party -vs- Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose
Anyone who wants to vote by absentee mail-in ballots in Ohio must first request one. They can do that by returning absentee ballot request cards that have been sent out by Ohio Secretary of State LaRose or from other political or good government groups. But unless you are an Ohio voter living overseas, you cannot make that request electronically. You can go online to get a form to use to make your request but you must mail it to your local board of election. Voter rights groups and the Ohio Democratic Party would like to see this policy changed so that any voter can merely go online and request their ballot be sent to them.
Again, Secretary LaRose has said he supports this change but cannot authorize it without legislative approval. State Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) has introduced a bill to make this change but it hasn’t made any progress and is highly unlikely to become law soon since lawmakers are not in full session before the November 3rd election.
The Ohio Democratic Party contended LaRose doesn't need legislative approval to make this change either. It sued over the issue in Franklin County Common Pleas Court. And on September 11th, that court ruled online ballot requests could be made online, in email or texts.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose immediately appealed the ruling to the 10th District Court of Appeals, saying it would make it easy for hackers to compromise the system. An appeal is pending right now.
Lawsuit over Signature matching
League of Women Voters of Ohio, A Phillip Randolph Institute of Ohio, George W. Mangeni, and Carolyn E. Campbell -vs- Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose
This lawsuit asks the court to rule the signature matching requirement on ballot applications and ballots themself unconstitutional. Currently, voters request written ballots with a written application that contains their signature. The boards of elections then match those signatures against the ones on file from the voter’s original registration. This signature matching also takes place when mail in ballots are received. If those signatures don’t match, the ballot or application can be denied.
But the ACLU of Ohio says thousands of voters were disenfranchised by this law in the 2018 election. So, it filed suit on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the A. Phillip Randolph Institute to ask a District Court to step in. The lawsuit asks the court to declare signature matching unconstitutional. The groups say the penmanship of voters often erodes over time or can be different depending on the circumstances when signing. If the court won't scrap the signature matching requirement for this election, the plaintiffs want the court to demand time to "remedy the situation" by requiring boards of elections to immediately email or call voters whose ballot applications or ballots are questioned so they can fix the problem.
Secretary of State LaRose says county boards will work with voters who are affected by questions over signature matching and will provide a “cure period.”
The lawsuit over this is pending.