Ohio Democratic Party Requests Public Records From Attorney General’s Office Related To Dropbox Opinion

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COLUMBUS — The Ohio Democratic Party today submitted a public records request to the Ohio attorney general’s office to obtain any communication related to the legal opinion Secretary of State Frank LaRose requested — and then withdrew at the last moment — about secure ballot dropboxes.

“Ohioans have used secure dropboxes to return their absentee ballots for years — and it was never a problem until Frank LaRose decided to make it one,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper. “When county boards of elections and local officials started to explore making these dropboxes more accessible to more voters — by installing multiple locations around their counties as happens in many other states — LaRose stepped in and stopped them by requesting a legal opinion from the attorney general’s office. He stonewalled for weeks waiting for the opinion, and even though the AG’s office said they had been in communications ‘regularly’ with LaRose about the forthcoming opinion, LaRose withdrew the request only days before he would’ve received it.

“The voters of Ohio deserve to know why LaRose withdrew his request, what communications he had received ‘regularly’ from the attorney general’s office and what he understood the forthcoming opinion was going to say — was his ban required by Ohio statute? We believe the statute very clearly allows multiple dropboxes, and LaRose’s arbitrary decision outlawing them cites no legal opinion and follows an incredibly flawed reading of Ohio’s election laws. We can only speculate on LaRose’s motives, but it is concerning that the Trump campaign is suing another swing state, Pennsylvania, for their use of dropboxes. No matter the motivation, the effect is obvious; it will be harder for Ohioans to vote safely and securely in the 2020 election.”

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommends as a best practice that one dropbox be available for every 15,000-20,000 registered voters.

Cuyahoga County has one dropbox — and more than 860,000 registered voters.

The party’s records request is seeking:

  1. Any draft legal opinions or communications including emails, texts, voicemails, notes of telephone calls and any other communication, electronic, written or recorded related to a legal opinion requested by the Ohio Secretary of State on July 20, 2020, regarding secure ballot dropboxes.

A spokesperson for Yost’s office told the Statehouse News Bureau that they had been in communications with the secretary of state’s office regularly since the request was made and were prepared to issue their opinion last week. LaRose withdrew his request before the opinion was issued.

TIMELINE:

On July 14, the Hamilton County Board of Elections voted 3-1 to investigate the cost and feasibility of installing four additional secure dropboxes. Given problems with the recent primary election, other county boards of elections had similar discussions.

On July 20, LaRose sent a letter to Yost, requesting his office’s legal opinion as to whether county boards of elections could install multiple secure dropboxes or if the current dropboxes (which were required in all 88 counties for the primary election) were even legal at all. His office communicated with boards of elections that they should not take action until he received a response from the AG.

(As WVXU’s Howard Wilkinson put it — it appeared that “LaRose is looking for an excuse to do away with the drop boxes altogether.”)

On July 21, legal counsel for the Ohio Democratic Party sent a letter to Yost explaining that nothing in Ohio law prohibits boards of elections from providing secure dropboxes — and nothing limits the number of those dropboxes.

On July 28, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson sent a letter to LaRose and the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections expressing his support for allowing secure dropboxes at Cleveland recreation centers and libraries.

On July 30, Mayor John Cranley sent a letter to the Hamilton County Board of Elections expressing his support for increasing the number of secure dropboxes in the city of Cincinnati.

Last week — more than one month after the Hamilton County Board of Elections first moved to look into installing additional dropboxes — LaRose withdrew his request to Yost’s office and issued his directive outlawing the board’s action.

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