Counties will have just one ballot drop box for this upcoming fall election, according to a decision announced by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose. But heated and mostly partisan debate continues over the decision, especially given changes being made right now by the United States Postal Service.
In traditionally Republican Delaware County, the board of elections is at the end of a strip mall that also houses a Big Lots store. The drop box is behind the building, next to a dumpster. And the board’s offices are 2.5 miles north of the city of Delaware, not within walking distance of the city’s residents.
Democratic Hamilton County Commissioner and former State Representative Denise Driehaus says the one ballot drop box in her blue county is centrally located but hard to get to, especially for people without cars. And even for those who have transportation and are able to get there, she says experience has shown there's usually a traffic jam.
“They have some parking but it’s not huge and so there is always a line that wraps around the building both to drop the ballots and also the early voting so it gets so congested in the parking lot and the streets that surround the board of elections, it’s just a mess," Driehaus says.
Driehaus is just one of dozens of community leaders who have been calling on Ohio’s Secretary of State to put up additional drop boxes before the November election. But Frank LaRose says he won’t do it for this year’s vote.
“This is something that I think is a fine idea for the future. I hope that the legislature weighs in on this and it can be done in an equitable way but with just under three months to go until Election Day, I don’t think it is time to change the way we have done things here in Ohio and add new drop boxes and questions about the validity of that and also to risk litigation. This is not something I think may happen. This is something I know would happen," LaRose says.
Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper says he isn’t ruling out a lawsuit over LaRose’s decision to not allow additional drop boxes.
“It’s a terrible decision. This reminds me of the Ken Blackwell days in 2004 where decisions make no sense whatsoever unless in the end they are motivated by making voting harder," Pepper says.
Pepper says LaRose has the authority to establish more drop boxes without legislative approval. LaRose says he wasn’t sure about that and had asked Republican Attorney General Dave Yost to issue a formal opinion. A written statement from Yost’s office says LaRose’s request didn’t contain a specific deadline but adds Yost was prepared to issue that opinion but didn’t after LaRose withdrew his request on August 11.
Ohioans have four weeks to drop off or mail in their ballots. But with changes in the mail processing announced by President Trump recently, some Ohioans say they are worried about sending in ballots. Governor Mike DeWine says he’s voted by mail in the past and adds it is a good option but certainly is not the only one.
“If they don’t want to do that, they’ve got 13 hours on Election Day, sort of the old-fashioned way, and they can show up. They will also have opportunities on many days to go to directly to the Board of Elections and vote there. So, there’s many options for every Ohioan so I don’t believe we are going to have a problem in Ohio at all. We know how to do this," DeWine says.
But the pandemic has forced local boards to make changes to be more COVID safe. And while officials say it’s unlikely, many are haunted by the possibility that Election Day could be postponed – just like the primary was last spring – in a health crisis. LaRose says there’s one sure fire way to avoid any problems….vote early. The states will send out absentee ballot applications around Labor Day, but they can be requested now. Those ballots will be mailed out when the early voting period opens up in October.