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Ohio Secretary Of State: Off-Site Ballot Drop Boxes Not Allowed Despite Judge's Ruling

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.

The Ohio Secretary of State's Office says employees from county boards of elections can not pick up absentee ballots from voters off-site, in contrast with a federal order released yesterday.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster dismissed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Frank LaRose over his restrictions on ballot drop box, citing an updated directiveissued Monday.

"In his latest Directive, the Secretary authorized any board to deploy its staff to receive ballots at sites other than the board office," Polster writes. "This means that the Cuyahoga County board may implement its intended plan to receive ballots at six public libraries, and that any other board in Ohio that votes to do so may deploy its staff to receive ballots off-site, so long as the board complies with the procedures set forth in Section II of Directive 2020-22.”

But Merle Madrid, the LaRose's chief of staff, disagrees.

"We think Directive 2020-22 is pretty clear that ballots can be returned to drop boxes at the board of elections or to the staff at the board of elections,” he says.

Polster’s ruling touched on drop boxes as well: “It is now settled law that off-site drop boxes are neither prohibited nor compelled in Ohio," he wrote wrote.

LaRose’s directive allowed for a second drop box only on location at county boards of elections, as well as bipartisan election officials to collect ballots outside the election board building.

 “The rules are in place for this election," Madrid says. "We need to run this election under the existing rules."

He says that county boards of elections have clarity in the directive, and the Ohio Attorney General and Cuyahoga County prosecutors will be communicating with Polster about his order.

“We’ll make sure the judge is clear on the directive’s intent, which is again, whether it’s drop boxes or in-person dropoff, that absentee ballots are returned to the board of elections," Madrid says.

Cuyahoga County Board of Elections said Wednesday it will not collect absentee ballots at local libraries as it had proposed, after the Ohio Attorney General's Office clarified the directive did not permit it. LaRose did allow the board to collect ballots at a high school parking lot about a block away, in order to help ease traffic.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.