“Confirmed Judges, Confirmed Fears” is a blog series documenting the harmful impact of President Trump’s judges on Americans’ rights and liberties. Cases in the series can be found by issue and by judge at this link.
Trump Judge Amul Thapar cast the deciding vote in a Sixth Circuit case upholding an effort by Ohio’s Republican secretary of state to make even fewer ballot drop boxes available in the final weeks of the 2020 election. The October 2020 case is A. Philip Randolph Inst. Of Ohio v. LaRose.
In August, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose issued a directive barring counties from setting up more than one drop box for absentee ballots regardless of the size of the county. This disrupted the plans prepared by the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections to install multiple drop boxes and facilitate access to the vote throughout the large and diverse county. LaRose claimed that such a directive was required by state law. But when the Ohio courts held otherwise, he kept the restriction in place anyway.
Several voting rights organizations filed suit in federal court, claiming the LaRose directive was an unconstitutional abridgement on the right to vote given the need for additional drop boxes in light of the COVID pandemic and growing public concern about postal delays. The federal district court issued an injunction against enforcing LaRose’s restriction.
But a panel of the Sixth Circuit stayed the injunction pending appeal, with Judge Thapar making a 2-1 majority possible. The panel held LaRose’s directive “poses at most an inconvenience” to a subset of voters who make a choice not to use any of the other methods that the “generous” state of Ohio provides for them to vote. The court found that the secretary’s ban on more than one drop box per county “promotes uniformity, which in turn promotes the fair administration of elections.” But as dissenting Judge Helene White pointed out, uniformity in the number of ballot drop-off locations “across counties with 850,000 voters and counties with less than 10,000 voters promotes unequal, rather than uniform, voting opportunities.”
The majority also claimed the directive served the state’s interest in efficiently administered elections, because officials and volunteers are so busy. But as the dissent explained, the secretary’s directive limited officials’ ability to implement plans “tailored to best administer efficient, safe, and secure voting in their counties.”
The majority opinion Thapar joined also stated that allowing the injunction would facilitate a “grave risk” of voter confusion. But as the dissent explained, not only did the secretary not present any evidence to support that claim, it was instead his own “eleventh hour directive” that disrupted the status quo in the first place.
Because of Trump judge Thapar, LaRose’s ban will go into effect as the case is litigated, so voters will likely not get their day in court until after their right to vote has been abridged.