Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office is freezing a plan from the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to collect absentee ballots at local libraries this fall.
The board’s move was meant to ease pressure on the U.S. Postal Service and at the county’s sole drop box at its Cleveland headquarters. Election boards across the state face a large, early surge in absentee ballot requests amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Board members approved the plan unanimously Monday morning. In an afternoon email, deputy assistant Secretary of State Amanda M. Grandjean ordered board members and staff to hold off on the proposal, citing ongoing lawsuits over expanding the number of county drop boxes around the state.
“Whether we like it or not, this question is still being resolved in the courts,” Maggie Sheehan, a spokeswoman for LaRose’s office, said in an email. “We’re concerned that the Cuyahoga board doing this before this issue is resolved in the courts would cause voter confusion. In light of that, we have ordered the board to cease implementation for now.”
LaRose’s office faces two lawsuits, one in federal court and one in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, challenging his directive limiting counties to one ballot drop box each.
Cuyahoga County Board of Elections chair Jeff Hastings, a Republican, told ideastream that time remained for the courts to resolve the question.
“Our plan doesn’t call for temporary vote-by-mail ballot collection until October 13, so there’s still plenty of time to get direction and guidance from the Secretary of State’s Office on how to proceed,” Hastings said.
The board’s proposal would allow bipartisan staff to collect absentee ballots at three Cuyahoga County Public Library branches and three Cleveland Public Library branches.
Beginning October 13, election workers would staff the sites from noon to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. They also would collect ballots in the parking lot of Campus International High School, keeping the same hours as the board’s in-person voting schedule.
Cuyahoga County has already processed 221,506 absentee ballot requests, more than the number of ballots cast by mail in 2016.
The county’s temporary ballot pickup sites offered a thriftier alternative to purchasing several heavy drop boxes, if the courts were to allow multiple boxes per county, Hastings said.
“I think it’s a more flexible solution, it’s a more inexpensive solution,” he said. “It’s something we can roll out quickly and effectively and securely.”