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Ballot drop boxes under fire

Ohio and GOP defend rule for single location

COLUMBUS — Ohio and Republican groups, including the Trump campaign, are fighting to uphold a GOP election chief’s directive limiting ballot drop boxes in the presidential battleground state to one per county.

They told a state appellate court in filings Monday that a county judge overstepped his authority when he blocked it. The Ohio Republican Party said Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye “relied on anecdotal evidence and ‘sound public policy,'” when the case “presents a pure question of law.”

In the crosshairs of the legal battle is Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s Aug. 12 directive restricting counties to one drop box each, located at the county board of elections.

Cuyahoga County, home to populous and Democratic-leaning Cleveland, said it would like to allow ballots to be collected at six public libraries last week, but that action has been halted because of the lawsuit.

LaRose argued that the number of drop boxes per county must be uniform to be fair, and that lawmakers had made clear in a law passed this spring that ballots had to be mailed or personally delivered to county board directors.

Ron Massullo, deputy director of the Trumbull County Board of Elections and a Democrat, said last week the logistics of placing multiple drop boxes in Trumbull County would be taxing and time consuming with just 44 days left before the election.

“Identifying proper placement, logistics of working out the details with the property owner / managers, assembling able-bodied bipartisan teams to monitor all the boxes and to schedule the emptying and transportation means in a safe and timely manner — all within 635 square miles of Trumbull County — can be taxing, to say the least,” Massullo said.

Massullo and elections director Stephanie Penrose, a Republican, are confident their staff can do the job to ensure Trumbull County votes are safe this election season.

Joyce Kale-Pesta, staff director for the Mahoning County Board of Elections, and county Democratic Party leader, said last week in Mahoning County it would be advantageous to have a box for southwestern, rural voters who live 45 minutes away from the board office.

She said the drop-box system worked well in the primary, and she bought a second drop-off box that includes a drive-by slot, similar to the mailboxes used in the drive-through lane at post offices. She said she plans to replace the one used in the primary with this new one.

Kale-Pesta said the time crunch would make it hard to get many drop off boxes placed at various spots around the county.

“But until this is resolved, we are abiding by the secretary’s (LaRose) order to have just one,” she said.

The cities of Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus have jumped into the lawsuit brought by the Ohio Democratic Party, as has the labor umbrella group AFL-CIO.

Siding with LaRose in the case are the state GOP, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Trump for America campaign.

They have asked the state’s 10th District Court of Appeals to toss Frye’s Sept. 15 decision, declaring the directive arbitrary and unreasonable, particularly given the coronavirus pandemic. Frye blocked the directive Wednesday.

Interest in access to ballot drop boxes has increased nationally since spring primary voting was hampered by virus concerns, the U.S. Postal Service has faced cutbacks and Trump has urged against mail-in voting, alleging without evidence that the process is rigged. It is often the more urban, Democrat-heavy counties that lean toward drop boxes.

Oral arguments in the Ohio case are scheduled for Friday.

Staff writer Guy Vogrin contributed to this report.

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