“Every one of Ohio’s 722 judges, 800 magistrates, and numerous active-retired judges should be greatly concerned and voice their dismay at the irresponsible Republican Party allegation that politics controlled the judge’s decision,” she said in a Wednesday statement. “This is a blatant and unfounded attack on the independence of the Ohio judiciary.”
She added, according to Statehouse News Bureau, “No matter how the judge ruled, to accuse them of partisanship is just at the hearts of what I think are efforts to weaken the judiciary.”
The criticism from O’Connor, a conservative stalwart who was previously lieutenant governor, comes as drop-box access has become a political flash point. Last month, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) ordered county boards of election to make just one such box available per county, angering lawmakers and critics concerned about voter suppression in larger, metropolitan counties that would need more than a single drop box to account for all its absentee ballots.
A lawsuit filed by the Ohio Democratic Party alleged the state had been silent on the location and number of drop boxes. In a ruling on Tuesday, Frye blasted LaRose’s Aug. 12 directive. The judge said the Republican secretary of state’s rule was anything but equal, mocking it as “equivalent to arguing that every county needs only 100 (or some other arbitrary number) of voting machines, regardless of the population.”
“That view of ‘equal’ treatment is nonsense,” Frye said in his decision, according to Bloomberg News.
Frye’s opinion enraged Ohio Republicans, who questioned the impartiality of the judge, a Democrat, while accusing him of parroting his party’s talking points as part of his decision.
“After the corruption and deceit we have seen from Ohio Democrats, it comes as no surprise to discover they have colluded with a Democrat Common Pleas Court judge regarding a ruling on ballot drop boxes,” the Ohio GOP said in its statement. The party added, “The judge’s interpretation of this law due to his partisan affiliation is a blatant obstruction of his judicial responsibility.”
O’Connor, who declined in her statement to get into the merits of Frye’s decision in case she had to eventually rule on it, accused Republicans of trying to undermine confidence in judges by calling their integrity into question.
“The Republican Party’s statement should be seen for what it is: part of a continuing string of attacks against any decision that doesn’t favor a political end, regardless of party, even if that decision may be legally correct and indeed legally required,” she said.
LaRose is expected to appeal. An attorney representing LaRose indicated to local media that the secretary of state would support having more than one drop box per county if it was made legal. (He lacks the legal authority to expand the number beyond the figure established in state law.)
A separate federal lawsuit is also challenging the rule. Jon Greenbaum, an attorney representing the voters-rights groups who filed the lawsuit, argued to Cleveland.com that LaRose’s measure was “an attempt to stifle voter turnout.”
“It’s an obvious point: If you have more drop boxes, you’ll have higher voter turnout,” he said.
That federal suit is being opposed by President Trump’s campaign, the Republican National Committee and the Ohio GOP.