CLEVELAND – To immediately expand the accessibility of ballot drop boxes to Ohio voters and protect the fundamental right to vote, a preliminary junction was filed today against Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s Directive 2020-16. The injunction argues the directive, which only permits one drop box per county at the board of elections office, places too great a burden on a voter’s fundamental right to vote and disproportionately affects residents of more populated counties.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, and pro bono law firms Dechert LLP, JSA LLP, and The Chandra Law Firm LLC are representing the plaintiffs, which include seven eligible, registered voters looking to vote by mail in the November 2020 general election and three organizational plaintiffs: the A. Philip Randolph Institute of Ohio, the League of Women Voters of Ohio and the Ohio State Conference of the NAACP.
“We are prepared to use every tool in our arsenal to fight voter suppression efforts, and ensure that every voter in every community has equal access to the ballot box,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “LaRose’s directive places unnecessary difficulty on the fundamental right to vote, and it is clear this is intended to discourage Black residents and other people of color from reaching the ballot box. Any reason he has for only allowing one ballot drop box in each county cannot be justified or defended.”
A confluence of events – postal service delays, a pandemic and the hazards associated with in-person voting makes it even more important that Ohioans be given equal access to drop boxes. But Secretary LaRose’s Directive obstructs equal access, guarantees overcrowding and prevents county governments who have publicly said that they want to install multiple drop boxes across the county from doing so. In Ohio’s most populous counties, crowding at one drop box is inevitable, in particular, because voters tend to vote closer to Election Day. In other counties, voters live far away and do not have access to reliable and safe transportation to get to the drop box at the board of elections office. In sum, the directive burdens all Ohioans, but especially those who live in more populated counties.
“An unprecedented number of Ohioans will vote by mail in the upcoming election. Given the US Postal Service delays, alternative methods of delivery are more crucial than ever,” said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio. “Yet the Secretary of State is restricting every county to a single drop box. This is not practical, fair, safe … or lawful. Boards of Elections must be permitted to take the common-sense step of installing multiple drop boxes for voters to return their absentee applications and ballots.”
Several Ohio counties already support installing more drop boxes at public libraries, and there is no evidence to suggest this would overwhelm election officials. The recent attacks on the Postal Service have also increased the need for expanding other vote-by-mail options. Ballot drop boxes have been proven safe and secure.
Read the preliminary injunction here.