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Election Protection is WKSU’s community information initiative focused on access, policy and community resources around voting this November.

Appeals Court Says Ohio Secretary of State Has Discretion to Allow More Ballot Drop Boxes

a photo of a drop box at the Summit County Board of Elections
Sarah Taylor
Summit County currently has one drop box outside the board of elections at 470 Grant St. in Akron.

If he wishes, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose can let counties have multiple ballot drop boxes, Ohio’s 10th District Appeals Court ruled Friday.

The decision, which came just four days before early voting started, was a partial win for the Ohio Democratic Party. It sued LaRose, a Republican, for limiting each county to a single receptacle at its board of elections.

LaRose said he was following state law. But the appeals court said state law does not specify the number nor location of drop boxes.

“We agree...that the statute neither prescribes nor prohibits ballot drop boxes at locations other than the boards of elections,” the decision said.

However, the appeals court reversed an earlier decision by a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge, who sided with the Democrats. Judge Richard Frye’s ruling required LaRose to allow multiple drop boxes. The appeals court decision leaves it up to LaRose.

“We find that while the Secretary was not statutorily required to limit the location of drop boxes...he was also not statutorily required to allow additional drop boxes,” the appeals court decision said.

In a statement, Secretary of State spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan said, “We received and are reviewing the decision and are pleased with the court’s ruling to reverse the injunction.”

A statement by Ohio Democratic Party Chair David Pepper urged LaRose to approve multiple receptacles per county.

“It is now time for LaRose to act on his public and private comments that he ‘would love to see more drop boxes,'" Pepper said. “There is time to allow counties to add drop boxes in the final weeks of the election, when they will be most helpful …”

A ruling hasn’t been issued in a similar, separate case that voting rights activists filed in federal court. U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster delayed making a decision until the state court ruled.

Before the appellate court ruled, LaRose allowed Cuyahoga County to have an extra ballot drop off at a school across the street from the board of elections. But the county board of elections had originally drafted a plan to allow ballot drop off at six local libraries. They argued the sites were necessary to avoid traffic congestion on major streets near the board of elections headquarters.

Polster had also ordered LaRose to work with Cuyahoga County voting officials to solve the problem.

The interactive map below shows where the drop box is located in each Ohio county.

Afi Scruggs is an award-winning writer/journalist and author who lives in Cleveland, Ohio. Her career started in 1983 as a freelancer in Richmond, Va. After that, she worked at newspapers in Washington D.C., Jackson, Miss., and Dayton, Ohio before settling in Cleveland.