Court: Ohio voters can apply for absentee ballots via email, fax; appeals court issues stay in case

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Ohio Democratic Party has scored a preliminary injunction against the secretary of state’s office which could allow for voters to apply for absentee ballots via e-mail or fax.

The ruling issued by the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas Friday says a portion of the state elections code on absentee ballots does not expressly prohibit applications via electronic means.

Applications for an absentee ballot must be presented to the voter’s board of elections in writing, which the court argued could be done via email or fax.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has filed an appeal of the ruling.

The appeals court issued a stay Saturday morning as the secretary’s office appeals the decision. The next step is for each side to file legal briefs with the appeals court, with LaRose’s side filing a brief by Sept. 16. The Democratic Party then has util Sept. 21 to file a brief, and both sides have until Sept. 23 to reply to the other’s brief.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper called the ruling a win for voters.

Pepper’s statement, issued Friday afternoon, reads, in full:

“This is a big win for Ohio voters, providing a fast, easy and modern way for voters to request an absentee ballot. We are pleased the court agreed with our argument that Ohio law permits voters to request absentee ballots electronically and that nothing in Ohio law justifies the Secretary of State’s policy rejecting such applications.

“It’s a shame that Frank LaRose is appealing this decision; after all, he has spent two years saying he supports online absentee ballot applications. It begs the question — why? Why is LaRose continuing to fight something he claims to support, even after a court has weighed in?”  

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper

LaRose, in a statement issued after the ruling, said the ruling does not provide for an online ballot request system. If the request is to be made via email, it must be done as an email attachment.

LaRose’s amended statement, issued Saturday morning, reads, in full:

“Today’s ruling rolls out the red carpet to Russian hackers – painting a giant bullseye on the back of our election system and upending the significant progress Ohio has made on elections cybersecurity.

“This ruling doesn’t come close to creating the secure online absentee ballot request system that Ohioans deserve. For close to five years I’ve called for the legislature to allow us to create a secure system for online absentee ballot requests. However, this ruling doesn’t create any system at all but only creates chaos and vulnerabilities. Boards have been trained not to open email attachments from unknown or unverified sources and this order would require them to do just that – jeopardizing the security of their systems.

“With just three weeks until early voting begins, this risks injecting chaos into what is already a challenging election for our county boards of elections. We are confident that a higher court will correct this quickly.”

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose

The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas’ ruling is available below. App users, tap here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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