Election 2020: County commissioners want ballot drop box decision reversed

Montgomery County Commissioners have called on Ohio State Secretary of State Frank LaRose to reverse course and allow counties additional ballot drop boxes this November. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF
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Montgomery County Commissioners have called on Ohio State Secretary of State Frank LaRose to reverse course and allow counties additional ballot drop boxes this November. MARSHALL GORBY / STAFF

Whether additional ballot drop boxes should be placed in counties is emerging as another issue where the political parties are split as concerns rise over the timely delivery of mail-in ballots by the U.S. Postal Service.

Montgomery County’s three Democratic commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday calling on Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose to retract his ban on multiple ballot drop boxes in counties this November.

“He could do it. He has the authority,” said Montgomery County Commissioner Debbie Lieberman. “We, along with many other counties throughout the state, are asking him to reconsider.”

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Democrats on the Franklin County commissioners joined those in Montgomery County by passing a similar symbolic measure Tuesday; Hamilton County commissioners did the same last week. But Delaware County Commissioners, all Republicans, voted to oppose additional drop boxes this week.

In a letter of support to LaRose, the Delaware County Commission warned additional drop boxes would result in ballot harvesting in which “helpers” go door-to-door and collect ballots.

“Such scenarios are rife with opportunity for those who have no qualms about manipulating the voting process,” their letter to LaRose read.

Providing security at multiple locations would also be costly, the Delaware County commissioners continued in the letter: “It would be unrealistic to believe the threshold for adequate security could be met at hundreds of additional locations.”

The Montgomery County Board of Elections is aiming to have about half — or 140,000 — the expected voters cast ballots by mail or drop box in November to keep lines down, said Steve Harsman, deputy director.

Harsman said with six-foot social distancing “30 people becomes 180 linear feet, and that’s going to be a problem.”

Already, 15,000 absentee ballot application requests have been made in Montgomery County, according to the elections board.

Montgomery County Commissioners objected Tuesday to LaRose’s Aug. 12 directive to county election officials: “Boards of elections are prohibited from installing a drop box at any other location other than the board of elections.”

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LaRose said Ohio code “is very gray” on additional drop boxes. State lawmakers did require at least one in every county earlier this year as a temporary measure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“What I don’t want to do is jeopardize dozens of counties around the state potentially adding extra boxes and then ending up in a protracted lawsuit as a result of it, which would be expensive and distracting, right as we’re leading up to Election Day,” LaRose said.

Additional ballot drop boxes are a way to reduce in-person voting in the face of a the pandemic while relieving pressure on the U.S. postal system, according to the Montgomery County resolution passed unanimously.

Lieberman has said voters would benefit with four to six more boxes placed around the county, with public libraries being the most likely locations.

“Under a normal year, that (one drop box) would be fine,” Lieberman said. “But we know that there’s going to be a number of people that don’t want to vote in person because of COVID. And now what’s happening with the post office, people don’t know what to do.”

Ohio is one of the 46 states warned by the U.S. Postal Service about potential delays to absentee ballots returned by mail. County election boards will begin mailing absentee ballots to voters on Oct. 6.

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Tuesday’s Montgomery County resolution also urges Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Statehouse leaders to ask the secretary of state to reverse course and allow more drop boxes.

LaRose had asked Ohio Attorney General for a formal opinion on the issue, but issued the directive without an opinion.

“Candidly, I think this is a question for the General Assembly,” LaRose said.

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Lieberman said LaRose doesn’t need an opinion from the attorney general nor action from legislators.

“The secretary of state, by many readings of the law, could go ahead and say, ‘you can have more than one drop box in your county,’” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.