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Ballot box issue at appeals court

COLUMBUS (AP) — The Ohio secretary of state’s evolving public statements and erratic actions prior to issuing a directive limiting ballot drop boxes to one per county prove his order is not reasonable, the Ohio Democratic Party’s lawyer told an appellate court Friday.

Attorney Corey Colombo’s statements came before a three-judge panel of the state’s 10th District Court of Appeals. The appellate court is deciding whether a trial judge’s decision blocking the drop box order as “arbitrary and unreasonable” should stand.

Judge Susan Brown said the court will make a decision soon in the expedited case.

Colombo argued that Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose first said the law governing drop boxes was unclear and that he then asked for an attorney general’s opinion — and then rescinded it.

The order then came hastily, Colombo argued, with LaRose noting county election boards needed certainty and time to prepare ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“His public statements have been that it was more of a timing issue, that he just had to make a decision. It wasn’t based on an interpretation of the law,” Colombo argued. “That, therefore, takes out the reasonableness of the decision he did make.”

LaRose’s attorney, Stephen Carney, told the court it takes more than that to prove a directive is unreasonable.

Carney said that LaRose would have loved for the Legislature to clarify its intention on drop boxes but that, when lawmakers failed to act, the secretary realized it was time to act.

“That alone is reasonable,” Carney argued. “If you want factual reasonableness, it is reasonable not to blow up our boards of elections with infighting and tiebreakers to the secretary and litigation, and also burdening them with the cost of security.”

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, the Republican National Committee and the Ohio GOP have joined LaRose’s side in the appeal.

The Ohio Republican Party’s attorney, Ed Carter, began his remarks Friday by apologizing to Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye for a Republican Party statement attacking his ruling against LaRose’s order and labeling him a “partisan judge.” The statement drew a pointed rebuke from Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor.

“The Ohio Republican Party apologizes to Judge Frye and the Ohio judiciary,” Carter said. “That will not happen again.”

LaRose’s directive may not be the best interpretation of the law, or everyone’s preferred interpretation, Carter said, but it is “no doubt reasonable.”

“There comes a time in the run-up to every election where the rules are set and the political parties compete in the court of public opinion,” he said. “We should be past that point in Ohio for this election.”

Both he and Carney said that, barring LaRose’s order, there was a good chance that Ohio would not have any drop boxes this fall. That’s because the state law establishing the single drop box per county was temporary and has expired.

Interest in access to ballot drop boxes has increased amid coronavirus concerns, cuts to the U.S. Postal Service and baseless allegations by Trump that the process is rigged. It is often the more urban, Democrat-heavy counties that lean toward drop boxes.