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Dispute over Ohio mail ballot drop box limit ends as advocates drop suit

The dropped suit was a win for Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who issued the directive.
Image: Frank Larose speaks at the Ohio Republican Party event in Columbus on Nov. 6, 2018.
Frank Larose speaks at an Ohio Republican Party event in Columbus on Nov. 6, 2018.Tony Dejak / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The fight over Ohio’s limit on ballot drop boxes ended Friday after a coalition of voting rights groups opted to drop their lawsuit, leaving in place an election chief’s order that was derided by three separate courts.

The A. Philip Randolph Institute, League of Women Voters of Ohio and ACLU of Ohio made the decision after the federal appellate court in Cincinnati set a timetable last week that pushed further activity in the case past Election Day.

The dropped suit was a win for Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who issued the directive. It’s also a victory for Republican President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, which joined LaRose in fighting to keep the restriction in place in a critical battleground state.

“Secretary LaRose is pleased that Ohio voters can continue on with the business of participating in the most secure and accessible election in Ohio’s history,” spokeswoman Maggie Sheehan said in a statement.

Six major Ohio cities were fighting alongside the voting rights groups to expand access to off-site ballot drop-off locations: Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Akron, Dayton and Toledo. The option has grown in popularity this year amid the coronavirus pandemic and concerns about the reliability of voting by mail.

Before the Trump campaign got involved, LaRose had said repeatedly that he would support allowing additional drop boxes if it was clear he had the legal authority to do so. He never followed through, though, despite courts at the county, state and federal level affirming he had the power. All criticized the order as an unreasonable impediment on voters, though only two of the three blocked it.

LaRose did issue a “clarification” to his initial one-box-per-county order, allowing counties to set up drop boxes “outside” their offices but, he said, still on-site.

The two versions of his order have been blocked and unblocked numerous times as the legal dispute made its way through the courts.

Most recently, it was in the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which set a briefing schedule last week that assured nothing would be decided before the Nov. 3 election. The court had requested the state’s brief on Nov. 24 and the voting rights coalition’s reply on Dec. 24, after reiterating its concern about changing election rules after voting had already begun.