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Ohio Secretary Of State's Decision Leaves Ballot Drop Boxes Hard To Get To

The secure ballot drop box at the Franklin County Board of Elections on Morse Road.
Darrin McDonald
The secure ballot drop box at the Franklin County Board of Elections on Morse Road.

In the traditionally-Republican Delaware County, the board of elections is at the end of a strip mall that also houses a Big Lots store. The county's sole drop box is located behind the building, next to a dumpster.

The board’s offices are 2.5 miles north of the city of Delaware, nowhere within walking distance of the city’s residents.

Franklin County's secure drop box is located just outside the front doors of the Board of Elections on Morse Road, in the northeast corner of Columbus.

In Hamilton County, county commissioner and former state Rep. Denise Driehaus says the one ballot drop box in her blue county is centrally located but hard to get to, especially for people without cars. Even for those who have transportation and are able to get there, Driehaus says experience has shown there's usually a traffic jam. 

“They have some parking but it’s not huge, and so there is always a line that wraps around the building both to drop the ballots also the early voting, so it gets so congested in the parking lot and the streets that surround the board of elections," Driehaus says. "It’s just a mess."

Ohio counties will have just one ballot drop box for this upcoming fall election, following a decision by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose. But the debate remains heated, especially in the wake of recent changes by the U.S. Postal Service that could impact voting by mail.

Ballot drop box behind Delaware County Board of Elections, several miles outside of the city.
Credit Jo Ingles / Statehouse News Bureau
Statehouse News Bureau
Ballot drop box behind Delaware County Board of Elections, several miles outside of the city.

Driehaus is just one of dozens of community leaders who called on LaRose to allow additional drop boxes before the November election. But LaRose says he won’t do it for this year’s vote.

“This is something that I think is a fine idea for the future," LaRose says. "I hope that the legislature weighs in on this and it can be done in an equitable way, but with just under three months to go until Election Day, I don’t think it is time to change the way we have done things here in Ohio and add new drop boxes and questions about the validity of that and also to risk litigation. This is not something I think may happen. This is something I know would happen."

Last week, LaRose sent a directive to all 88 county board of elections telling them that they can only install one secure drop box at the board itself.

Ohio Democratic Party chair David Pepper says he isn’t ruling out a lawsuit over LaRose’s move.  

“It’s a terrible decision," Pepper says. "This reminds me of the Ken Blackwell days in 2004 where decisions make no sense whatsoever unless in the end they are motivated by making voting harder."

Pepper and other Democrats argue that LaRose has the authority to establish more drop boxes without legislative approval. LaRose says he wasn’t sure about that, and had asked Republican Attorney General Dave Yost to issue a formal opinion.

written statement from Yost’s office says LaRose’s request didn’t contain a specific deadline, and that LaRose withdrew his request just before Yost was prepared to issue his opinion.

The ballot drop box at the Hamilton County Board of Elections.
Credit Tana Weingartner / WVXU
The ballot drop box at the Hamilton County Board of Elections.

Ohioans have four weeks to drop off or mail in their ballots once early voting begins on October 6. But with changes in mail processing recently announced by President Trump, some residents say they are worried about sending in ballots. The U.S. Postal Service sent a letter to LaRose last weekinforming him that the state's voting deadlines could mean that some people won't see their ballots arrive in time, due to anticipated delivery delays.

Gov. Mike DeWine says he’s voted by mail in the past. He argues it's a good option but certainly not the only one.

“If they don’t want to do that, they’ve got 13 hours on Election Day, sort of the old-fashioned way, and they can show up," DeWine says. "They will also have opportunities on many days to go to directly to the Board of Elections and vote there. So, there’s many options for every Ohioan so I don’t believe we are going to have a problem in Ohio at all. We know how to do this."

But the pandemic has forced local boards to make changes to be more coronavirus-safe. And while officials say it’s unlikely, many are haunted by the possibility that Election Day could be postponed – just like the primary was last spring – if the health crisis worsens.

LaRose says there’s one sure fire way to avoid any problems: vote early. Ohio will send out absentee ballot applications to all registered voters around Labor Day, but they can be requested now through county board of elections.

Those ballots will be mailed out when the early voting period opens up in October. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is noon on October 31. If you're voting through the mail, your ballot must be postmarked by November 2 to be counted, but you can drop them off at your county's drop box anytime before November 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.