Columbus – Ohio's top election official is responding to a state court's ruling that he doesn't have the authority to limit ballot drop boxes by allowing more drop boxes to be installed — but only at the same location where they're currently allowed.
Each of Ohio's 88 county boards of elections may install more drop boxes at each of the county boards of elections offices, a move that does nothing to expand access to the drop boxes for Ohioans who live far from their county election office and wish to cast an absentee ballot.
LaRose's previous directive allowed only one drop box per county at each county board of elections office, but the Ohio Democratic Party sued him for more drop boxes. His new directive also states that the bipartisan election officials may stand outside the county boards of elections office to receive returned absentee ballots from voters.
Ohio's voter registration deadline ends after October 5, and Ohio begins early voting on October 6.
"Despite 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, a Republican, said in a statement.
The Ohio Democratic Party and voting rights groups were quick to criticize the directive.
"Frank LaRose pledged publicly that he would allow expanded drop box locations if he were allowed under Ohio law," Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper said in a statement. "We proved our case, and he lost, showing that drop boxes are permitted in multiple locations in Ohio counties. Now he's going back on his word with a transparent, cynical ploy."
Voting groups told CBS News on Monday that LaRose's directive does little to alleviate commute times for voters and potential traffic congestion around elections offices.
"It completely misses the point," said Jen Miller, the executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. "We want multiple drop boxes across the county so that anyone, regardless as to where they live, can easily access a drop box for both their absentee applications and ballot. This still does little to improve accessibility for senior citizens, voters with disabilities, low income Ohioans and those who live in rural or exurban areas."
In mid-September, the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections approved a plan to implement six temporary vote-by-mail collection sites at libraries across the county, which is home to Cleveland. A press release said the sites would consist of "politically balanced teams" who would collect ballots, aiming to "ease traffic congestion that is anticipated when thousands of voters begin to visit the Board to Vote Early In-Person while others are dropping off voted ballots."
A local news outlet at the time reported that LaRose's office blocked that plan because of the lawsuits over drop boxes. Under LaRose's new directive, this plan is still blocked, according to a LaRose spokesperson.
As early voting begins Tuesday, more than 2 million Ohioans have submitted absentee ballot applications to their county boards of elections. That number has already surpassed the total number of Ohioans who voted absentee – in-person and by mail – in the 2016 general election.