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Ohio limit of 1 ballot drop box per county blocked, appealed

FILE – In this April 28, 2020 file photo, Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland, Ohio. A county judge ruled Tuesday, September 15, 2020 that Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose's directive restricting counties to providing just one ballot drop box in November was "arbitrary and unreasonable." (AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio judge has temporarily blocked the Republican secretary of state’s order limiting counties to one ballot drop box, and both the state and the Republican Party have appealed.

A judge in Franklin County, home to the state capital, blocked the directive Wednesday after Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose failed to voluntarily respond to his declaration that the order was arbitrary and unreasonable.

The state immediately appealed, and the Ohio Republican Party followed suit late Thursday.

The faceoff makes unclear how many drop boxes will be available to Ohio voters just 2 1/2 weeks before voting begins Oct. 6.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye’s decision to block the order followed a ruling Tuesday that derided the directive but stopped short of requiring LaRose to change or rescind the order. And LaRose did neither, leaving the restriction of one drop box for each of Ohio’s 88 counties in place.

Both actions come in a lawsuit brought by the Ohio Democratic Party and a coalition of voting rights groups alleging LaRose’s restriction is unconstitutional.

LaRose cites a state election law that says absentee ballots must be “delivered by mail or personally” to a voter’s county election director.

He has said that he personally supports counties adding more drop boxes, but that he lacks the legal authority to expand the number beyond the one set by the Republican-controlled Legislature this spring.

He notes that the single drop box lawmakers allowed would be located at each county board of elections, while added drop boxes are envisioned to be placed at locations throughout a county.

Frye said because the word “deliver” is ambiguous in the law, counties must be legally permitted to explore setting up additional boxes.

Access to ballot drop boxes has become an urgent matter nationally amid the coronavirus pandemic, questions about mail-in voting security and cutbacks at the post office. Urban counties, which tend to favor Democrats, are often the ones seeking to add drop boxes due to their large populations.