Commentary: So, Can Ohio Have More Ballot Drop Boxes Or Not?

Aug 5, 2020

Must be some deep thinkers in Columbus at Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost's office.

It's been 16 days since Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose asked Yost for a formal legal opinion on two questions, which should have fairly simple yes-or-no answers.

  • Are county boards of elections allowed to continue using their single, secure drop boxes for the November general election and beyond "when the only legal authorization for the installation of those single receptacles is found in uncodified temporary law related to the completion of the 2020 primary election" and not in permanent Ohio law?
  • And, even if a county board of elections may continue to use a single drop box, does Ohio law permit the installation of additional drop boxes? "Or must the General Assembly pass legislation to authorize the installation and use of more than one secure receptacle in a county?"

There's a lot riding on the answer to those questions.

Like the difference between a relatively smoothly run election on Nov. 3 despite the enormous number of absentee ballots that are expected to be out there, in every corner of Ohio, and a hot mess that may take weeks or months to untangle.

There are a lot of Democrats out there who believe that LaRose, now with the help of Yost, is trying to stall the decisions on those questions until it would be too late to arrange for the installation and of additional secure drop boxes, especially in the state's largest urban (read "Democratic") counties.

"It just seems like a stall tactic by the secretary of state to me,'' said David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. "It's as if he's waiting for the clock to run out on the ability of counties to add more drop boxes."

LaRose says that Democrats believe that he, as secretary of state, can make this decision for county boards of elections himself. But LaRose believes the question of more drop boxes is one the Ohio General Assembly must decide.

"We wish it was easy to put out ballot drop boxes, but they must be secure, pass legal logistics of how the ballots are transported, be paid for using taxpayer dollars, and be a legal method of voting, which is what our letter to the Attorney General was meant to clarify,'' LaRose spokesperson Maggie Sheehan told WVXU in an email.

Why does this question of more drop boxes matter?

Well, in the elongated process that was the 2020 Ohio primary, nearly all of the people who voted after March 17 and before the April 28 deadline voted using absentee ballots.

Every one of the 88 counties in Ohio had one secure drop box for people to drop off their ballots rather than trusting them to the U.S. Postal Service to deliver.

Hamilton County, which has had a drop box at its former location Downtown and at its present home in Norwood for many years, had an experience on the last day of primary voting that they don't want to repeat two-fold or three-fold in November.

Back in April, on the last day of voting, there was an incredibly long line of cars waiting to drop off ballots that wound from the Smith Road offices of the Board of Elections all the way to the Norwood Lateral. Some people sat in their cars for hours to get up to the drop box.

"There's likely to be two or three times as many people voting absentee in November," said Caleb Faux, a Democratic member of the Hamilton County Board of Elections. "It will be an incredible traffic mess."

Faux introduced a motion at the July board meeting proposing four locations for new drop boxes – one in front of the County Administration Building Downtown, one at the Anderson Township Administration Building, one in Cheviot or Green Township, and another in Forest Park or Springdale.

The Hamilton County Board of Elections staff has accepted bids for the new boxes but has halted all work on the project until Yost gives his opinion. That was what LaRose told all county boards to do – put their plans on hold.

And now we wait for the attorney general to speak.

Hopefully, before Election Day.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

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