In Ohio, the cluster of controversies around the U.S. Postal Service — and the thorny question of whether its services are being crippled before the election — have played out in the hands of Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, who has received both praise and scorn for his actions.
That includes a reversal from a former critic: On Tuesday, LaRose drew measured praise from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio after he announced a plan to use $3 million from his office’s business fund in order to pay for postage on all absentee ballots in the state.
“If the controlling board approves our request, they will effectively be making every mailbox a drop box
for millions of Ohioans,” LaRose said in a statement, which touted an “innovative solution…making it easier than ever to cast a ballot in a general election.”
In response, the civil rights group thanked LaRose and called the funding a potential "big win for Ohio voters
Those words are a change from the ACLU’s sentiments last week, on Aug. 12, when the civil rights group excoriated LaRose over his directive to ban local Boards of Elections from expanding their supplies of ballot drop boxes.
In total, LaRose’s order left the state with 88 drop boxes, an unequal apportionment that the ACLU blasted in a tweet as “LUDICROUS.”
That same day, seemingly by coincidence, LaRose appeared at a Columbus Metropolitan Club forum entitled “Fighting Voter Suppression While Guaranteeing Fair Elections.”
During the forum, LaRose offered several explanations for why Ohio voters would be limited to the single drop box in their county.
“I think it would be great if we had multiple drop boxes in every county in Ohio,” he acknowledged. “The question is whether I can do that unilaterally, without legislative authority and approval, without tying it up in litigation and creating more confusion.”
LaRose insisted he wasn’t speaking hypothetically about the danger of lawsuits: He noted that in Pennsylvania, “they decided they would add additional drop boxes and they're now tied up in a lot of litigation." However, LaRose did not mention the source of that lawsuit is the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump, which accused Pennsylvania officials of “exponentially” increasing the threat of fraud for the November general election by installing additional ballot drop boxes, by which they had “sacrificed the sanctity of in-person voting at the altar of unmonitored mail-in voting.”
The possible threat of a Trump campaign lawsuit wasn’t the only thing left unsaid by LaRose during his forum appearance on Aug. 12.
At the time, LaRose raised the issue of his office’s authority: He claimed that he didn’t know whether the Secretary of State has the power to expand the number of ballot drop boxes without approval from the legislature.
However, LaRose had sent formal request for a legal opinion on that very issue to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost. That legal opinion was never released, because, on Aug. 11, one day before issuing his directive, LaRose abruptly withdrew the request.
(The move caught Yost by surprise. In a subsequent statement to Ohio Public Radio, the Attorney General said his office had been working on fulfilling LaRose’s request since late March, stating, “We were prepared issue the opinion this week.”)
One day later, at the Aug. 12 forum, LaRose’s explanations were met with backlash. Seated alongside him, the two co-panelists invited for the event, Jen Miller, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, and Andre Washington, of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, argued that LaRose was wrong to throw a roadblock in front of local election authorities to install additional ballot drop boxes.
“To me it is unacceptable,” Washington said, addressing both the forum audience and LaRose. “Why should I have to pack my kids up, gas the car up, pack a picnic basket and drive all the way to the other side of town just to drop my ballot off?”
Now, little more than a week later, LaRose’s plan to use $3 million from his office’s business service division to fund free postage for all absentee ballots — a request that still requires approval the from the Ohio Controlling Board — appears to once again change Ohio’s election landscape.
Indeed, as LaRose suggested in his announcement, the inclusion of free postage on every ballot would make every mailbox, technically, a ballot drop box.
But the two options are not equal. Election drop boxes are maintained by county election boards, while mailboxes are reliant on the struggling U.S. Postal Service, which last month warned dozens of states, including Ohio, about a “significant risk” that it won’t be able to honor requests for absentee ballots made at or near the state’s deadline.
The general election will be a test for local election officials. In March, Ohio’s health officials intervened in order to delay the primary and eliminate in-person voting as a safeguard to the still rampaging coronavirus epidemic. Despite those efforts, many voters in Cuyahoga County never received their ballots and had to travel to the election office themselves, where the glut of voters led to long lines and snarled traffic.
Election officials appear to be preparing for the possibility of a repeat. On Thursday, LaRose announced that his office had partnered with Mentor-based company RB Sigma to donate 462,000 medical masks to Ohio’s 88 county election boards.
In a tweet, LaRose said the masks are being provided “to ensure no matter how Ohioans choose to vote this fall — they can do it safely.”
There are three ways to vote in the November General Election for Cuyahoga County residents. As per the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, you can vote by:
- Absentee/Vote by mail – To receive a ballot in the mail, print and complete the Absentee Application form (or call 216-443-VOTE to get a form mailed to you). Mail or drop it off at Board of Elections (2925 Euclid Ave). They start mailing ballots on Oct. 6.
- Voting early at the Board – Hours and info at the BOE here.
- Heading to your precinct on Tuesday, Nov 3 – Link to find your polling place