Federal Judge Dan Aaron Polster ruled Thursday that Ohio county boards of elections can offer multiple off-site drop boxes for voters’ absentee ballots.
“The right to vote guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments is without a question one of the most important rights guaranteed by our Constitution,” Polster wrote. “The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the anxiety over whether the U.S. Postal Service will be able to handle the unprecedented number of ballots being returned by mail, is proposing unprecedented challenges to voters and boards of election.”
Polster’s decision blocked Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s order which prohibited off-site drop boxes, according to Cincinnati Enquirer.
LaRose implemented the ruling – which allows multiple drop boxes but only at county boards of elections – after a 10th District Court of Appeals found Ohio law doesn’t require or prohibit multiple drop boxes, per the same report.
Franklin County Judge Richard Frye invalidated the directive in September, but LaRose’s spokesperson said the directive remained in place nonetheless.
Democrats and voting rights activists argued there should be more dropbox locations in anticipation for an increase in mail-in voting, according to Fox News.
“The state’s procedures must be fair,” Polster continued. “They must not place any burden upon voting beyond what is necessary to ensure a fair election, and they may not impose an undue burden upon any suspect class of citizens.”
Polster argued LaRose’s directive would disenfranchise thousands of voters. (RELATED: Federal Judge In Ohio Rules Changing Signature-Matching Process This Late In The Election Would Be ‘Damaging’)
“The Court holds that the Directive significantly burdens the right to vote and, ultimately, may have the effect of deterring many people from voting or forcing them to risk their health by voting in-person.”
“The Court finds that the combination of the Directive limiting counties to a single drop box location and the disproportionate effect it has on people of color living in larger counties and cities imposes a significant burden on Plaintiffs’ fundamental right to vote,” Polster added.
Polster noted that different counties, like Noble County where roughly 8,000 registered voters live, would manage with a single dropbox location. However, counties like Cuyahoga County, where there are more than 850,000 registered voters, would not fare well with a single dropbox location.
Polster’s order allows county boards to add more drop boxes throughout the county if they follow rules to ensure that the receptacles are secure.
Kristen Clarke, president of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under law, hailed the decision as a win, according to CNN.
“The court’s order protects the right to vote for tens of thousands of Ohioans, especially Black voters and people of color who disproportionately reside in some of the state’s major population centers. No voter should have to sacrifice their health and well-being to cast their ballot,” she said. “Drop boxes have proven to be a secure method of collecting ballots, and are crucial in allowing voters to safely cast their vote during this unprecedented pandemic.”
BREAKING: Victory secured in Ohio over Sec’y LaRose’s unlawful and discriminatory rule BANNING counties from having more than 1 drop box. This ruling benefits voters across Ohio, esp those in Cuyahoga Cty and other population centers. We’ll keep fighting to protect #VotingRights. pic.twitter.com/7M1TwhvOyF
— Kristen Clarke 866-OUR-VOTE (@KristenClarkeJD) October 8, 2020