By Nicholas Matuszewski
On October 8, U.S District Judge Aaron Polster overruled the one drop box per county limit imposed by Frank LaRose, Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State.
Judge Polster focused his ruling on the fact that 15% of Cincinnati and Cleveland’s population would have to travel over 90 minutes to vote. Of those 15%, most are poor minorities; many of whom may not even have the means to travel that far and would potentially be forced to utilize crowded public transportation and risk endangering their health during the pandemic.
To that regard, Polster explained that “[v]oters’ fears of voting in-person due to Covid-19 are reasonable, and no one can rationally discount those fears.” He added that “[i]t is also indisputable that we are living in the unprecedented juxtaposition of the worst pandemic in a century coupled with reasonable concern and anxiety over the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to handle what will undoubtedly be the largest number of absentee voters in Ohio’s history, both by absolute number and percentage.”
While this ruling is focused on Cuyahoga County in particular, the hope is that it could catalyze other counties to also add additional drop boxes. Each county board will be able to vote to determine whether their county will add more boxes.
Voting rights groups have hailed Polster’s holding as an important victory for democracy. Afterall, according to Kristen Clarke, the chief executive of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, “[t]he 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”. Additionally, Jen Miller, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio said, “”[v]oters deserve better access during this historic election, and the courts agree with us”.
All of this is occurred after a Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals panel held that nothing in Ohioan law prevents the state from increasing the number of drop boxes available for the election. LaRose decided to allow for counties to have more than one drop box as long as all drop boxes were located on the board of elections properties. Naturally, this solution would do nothing to address the concerns around the drop boxes inaccessibility. LaRose based his reasoning on the unsubstantiated argument that allowing for drop boxes in different locations would lead to fraud and election rigging. He stated that “[d]espite predictable partisan politics that attempt to create phony crises, we have kept our eye on the ball and Ohio’s election officials are ready to administer a safe, secure and accurate election”.
LaRose is not the only Republican to question the need for extra drop boxes. In fact, President Trump has tweeted that drop boxes are a “voter security disaster” and “a big fraud!” What’s more, Ohio is not even the only state that is currently debating whether extra drop boxes should be allowed. On October 1, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announcedthat he would restrict the number of ballot drop boxes to one per county.