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A federal judge said Tuesday that a new directive issued by Secretary of State Frank LaRose Monday allows boards of elections officials to collect ballots away from the board offices and dismissed a federal lawsuit challenging a previous LaRose directive limiting drop boxes to one per county.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster dismissed the lawsuit filed by voting rights advocates against LaRose without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled later.

LaRose issued a new directive Monday to clarify his previous directive based on decisions in state and federal lawsuits, with the new directive allowing counties to have more than one drop box for the return of absentee ballots on the grounds of the board elections. The directive also allows board of elections employees to collect absentee ballots “outside of the office of the board of elections from electors personally delivering their absentee ballots to the board.” (See The Hannah Report, 10/6/20.)

While LaRose’s office had interpreted that directive to mean that board employees could only collect absentee ballots on the property of the board offices, Polster said in his ruling Tuesday that the directive “means that the Cuyahoga County board [of elections] 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, as long as the board complies with the procedures set forth” in LaRose’s directive.

Polster said that his court, along with the Franklin County Common Pleas Court and the 10th District Court of Appeals in Ohio, have all found that LaRose’s earlier directive limiting boards to one drop box was unreasonable because state law does not prohibit nor compel boards of elections to use drop boxes. The federal judge called it “settled law.”

“While the off-site staff collection of absentee ballots may not have all the advantages of off-site drop boxes, such a program alleviates many of the concerns raised at the hearing. There is no evidence before the court that Secretary LaRose is currently prohibiting any board from doing something it voted to do to protect the voting rights of its citizens with respect to off-site drop boxes or off-site delivery of ballots. Therefore, there is no problem that requires an injunction,” Polster wrote.

The judge said that it is his hope that now that early voting has begun in the state, “the litigation over drop boxes and off-site ballot collection will come to an end,” but added that plaintiffs may still refile their lawsuit between now and the Nov. 3 election.

Responding to the ruling, LaRose spokesperson Maggie Sheehan said, “Ohioans showed up for today’s start of early voting in impressive numbers. Combined with a record number of absentee ballot requests, it’s clear that Ohioans are ready to move past lawsuits and start taking advantage of the elections system that has made Ohio a national leader in early voting and a model for election administration.”

A copy of the ruling can be found at www.hannah.com>Important Documents and Notices>Library.

Meanwhile, LaRose’s office said that by the first day of early voting, 2,154,235 absentee ballot applications had been received by county boards of elections. Over the past week, 158,839 new absentee ballot requests were submitted. At the same time during the 2016 presidential election, 1,091,188 absentee ballots had been requested.

Story originally published in The Hannah Report on October 6, 2020.  Copyright 2020 Hannah News Service, Inc.