The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas has demanded Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose explain his office's comments that he’ll keep in place a directive that prohibits county election boards from adding additional drop boxes.
Judge Richard Frye issued an opinion Tuesday finding that LaRose was "arbitrary and unreasonable" in limiting county election boards from adding more than one ballot drop box for the fall election. The ruling clarified that every election board is "legally permitted" to add more options for delivering absentee ballots, depending on their individual needs.
However, LaRose's office soon issued a statement claiming that the opinion did not affect their directive, and told county boards to continue abiding by the restrictions.
"Importantly, while the judge issued a declaration as to the law regarding the return of absentee ballots and drop boxes, he did not rule on the Plaintiff’s request to enjoin the Secretary’s Directive," spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan said in an email. "Lacking that, today’s ruling didn’t change anything and the Secretary’s Directive remains in place."
On Wednesday morning, the court ordered LaRose to explain why he “will not honor prior statements that he would abide by this court’s ruling.”
LaRose's office responded by arguing that changing the directive now would cause confusion close to the election. Early voting in Ohio begins on October 6.
LaRose adds other court action is pending, so litigation wouldn’t be over if he complied now. Even before Tuesday's opinion came out, LaRose requested a stay of any preliminary injunction, and his office said it would appeal the ruling.
"Unfortunately, the way the judge ruled prevents an immediate appeal of his ruling," said Sheehan in a statement Wednesday. "In response, Secretary LaRose has called upon the judge to allow his ruling to be appealed today. He should immediately rule on the pending injunction of the Secretary's Directive and conclude the entire case to allow an appeal."
Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper, the plaintiff in the case, says boards of election are in a tough spot as it stands now.
“They have a Secretary of State, that they are supposed to listen to, telling them to follow a policy that has now been declared illegal, so that just cannot stand," Pepper says.
In a separate filing, Ohio Democratic Party also suggested the Ohio Republican Party, which has intervened in the case, could be found in contempt for issuing a statement Tuesday claiming that Democrats "colluded" with Frye in the ruling.
"The role of a judge is to be impartial, yet the judge in question parroted his party's talking points in his ruling," the Ohio GOP statement read. "The law was clear in stating the legality of having one ballot drop box per county. The judge's interpretation of this law due to his partisan affiliation is a blatant obstruction of his judicial responsibility."
A second lawsuit over the drop box directive, filed against LaRose by various voting rights groups, has yet to be decided.