Dayton wants more voting drop boxes added

Montgomery County has an absentee ballot box inside the administration building downtown and one outside, on the west side of the building. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Montgomery County has an absentee ballot box inside the administration building downtown and one outside, on the west side of the building. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Dayton’s elected leaders are calling on Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose to increase the number of drop boxes for absentee ballots ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

Each county in Ohio only has one drop box site for absentee ballots, which is woefully insufficient because citizens need safe ways to vote during this global public health crisis, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

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Whaley said it’s unfair that Ohio’s large counties have the exact same number of drop box locations as the state’s least populated counties.

“We are still encouraging and doing our best to protect the vote of the people of Dayton,” Whaley said. “All we want is everyone in Dayton to vote.”

Secretary LaRose would like to expand drop boxes to other places, but that can’t happen without new state legislation, according to his office.

“Secretary LaRose has been and continues to be supportive of legislation that permits additional options for voters to return their absentee ballots,” said spokesperson Maggie Sheehan. “As an executive office holder, he must follow the law as the legislature writes it.”

Earlier this month, the Dayton City Commission approved an informal resolution asking Secretary LaRose to “immediately reverse the ban of secure off-site absentee ballot drop boxes.”

The resolution says residents of urban areas like Dayton have been forced to wait in long lines at fewer polling locations to cast their votes in recent elections.

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Voter suppression is a major concern in urban areas, and offering just one drop box in the seat of each county will likely result in more Ohioans voting in person on election day, which creates an unnecessary risk of exposure to the virus, the city’s resolution says.

“Secretary LaRose must adapt to this unprecedented time and ensure that every Ohioan, no matter where they live, has an opportunity to safely cast their vote,” the resolution says.

The resolution directs the city’s law department to explore whether it can take legal action to try to protect Dayton residents’ voting rights. Last month, some voting-rights groups sued LaRose in an attempt to increase the availability of absentee drop boxes.

Montgomery County’s drop box is located outside of the Montgomery County Administration Building (451 W. Third St.). There is also a box inside the building’s lobby, on the first floor.

Montgomery County's absentee ballot box outside the administration building. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF
Montgomery County's absentee ballot box outside the administration building. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Dayton would like to offer additional secure absentee drop boxes at city-owned sites to increase voting access, Whaley said.

Absentee drop boxes have become a partisan issue, and unless additional drop-off sites are added, there will be long lines on election day, even though the coronavirus threat makes it unsafe for large crowds to gather, she said.

Whaley said it’s unacceptable that Montgomery County and Vinton County have the same number of drop boxes.

Montgomery County, with a population of 531,700 residents, is the fifth largest county in the state. Vinton County (pop. 13,100 residents) is the smallest of Ohio’s 88 counties.

But this is the first time ever that drop boxes have been required at every county board of elections in a general election, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

In the spring, Ohio legislators for the first time approved allowing election mail to be deposited in drop boxes outside of county boards of elections, the office said.

The temporary law has expired, but the Secretary of State has directed boards of elections to make the drop boxes available 24 hours a day beginning on Sept. 1, the office said.

The drop boxes must be monitored at all times, and ballots must be retrieved every day, the office said.

LaRose right now is focused on getting the Ohio Controlling Board to permit him to pay postage on absentee ballots, effectively making every blue mail box an absentee drop box, said Sheehan, the spokesperson.

On Tuesday,U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), joined Ohio House Democrats to ask LaRose to provide prepaid return postage on ballots and ballot applications.

In an election where many citizens' only practical option is to vote by mail, forcing Ohioans to pay postage in order to exercise this right is akin to a modern day poll tax," according to a letter the lawmakers wrote. “Nothing in the Ohio code prohibits you from prepaying return postage on both ballot application forms and ballots themselves.”

Also on Tuesday, All Voting is Local, Common Cause Ohio and other groups sent a letter to Secretary LaRose requesting he increase the number of ballot boxes in each county.

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