Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose can allow more ballot drop boxes ahead of the November election if he wishes, the Tenth District Court of Appeals ruled. But the decision stopped short of forcing LaRose to do so.
The decision – which came on Friday, just days before early voting starts – was a partial win for the Ohio Democratic Party, which sued the Republican election leader over his directive limiting each county to a single ballot drop box at its board of elections.
While LaRose previously claimed he supported expanding the number of ballot drop boxes, he said that change would have to be made by the Ohio legislature. But the appeals court agreed with Democrats that 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.
The appeals court did reverse an earlier injunction by a Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge, who also sided with Democrats while requiring LaRose to allow multiple drop boxes immediately. The 10th District leaves that 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.
Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper says this ruling paves the way for LaRose to add more drop boxes if he really wants to.
"The obstacle Frank LaRose has always held out as the reason not to do it was the law didn't let him," Pepper says. "This decision cleared away that obstacle and said there's nothing in Ohio law that would keep you from adding drop boxes. So now it's time to do what you said you wanted to do all along."
LaRose has said in recent weeks that he doesn't want to add drop boxes now, this close to the election, claiming it would be costly and confusing. However, last week, some labor unions volunteered to make drop boxes at no cost to the state, and said they could have them ready in no time.
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.”
The 10th District's ruling could still be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.
A second, federal lawsuit over LaRose's drop box directive, filed by the A. Philip Randolph Institute and a number of voting rights groups, is still ongoing. U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster delayed making a decision until the state court made its ruling.
Before the appellate court's decision, LaRose allowed Cuyahoga County to have an extra ballot drop off at a school across the street from the board of elections. The election board had originally drafted a plan to allow ballot drop off at six local libraries, arguing 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.
Voter registration for Ohio's general election ends on Monday, October 5 and early voting begins on Tuesday, October 6.