COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's top election official acted reasonably when he barred counties from accepting absentee ballot applications electronically in the face of potential cyberthreats and a loosely worded law, lawyers for the state and Republicans argued in a court filing Wednesday.
Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose's directive was also “consistent with more than a decade of bipartisan precedent,” according to groups including the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and the state GOP.
The filings in a state appellate court were submitted ahead of oral arguments scheduled Thursday in a lawsuit brought by the Ohio Democratic Party, alleging LaRose's order is unconstitutional.
A county judge temporarily blocked the order Sept. 11. Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Stephen McIntosh ordered LaRose to allow ballot applications by electronic means, including by email or fax.
Enforcement of McIntosh’s order was stayed, however, as the state appeals to Ohio’s 10th Appellate District.
Lawyers for the Republican committees wrote that “emails can be vessels for cybersecurity threats, including ransomware,” and that such attacked could be “catastrophic.”
That argument mirrors one made by LaRose, who says he fears moving away from accepting the forms exclusively in person or by mail would risk outside interference in a critical presidential battleground.
The dangers of submitting an absentee application as an email attachment are a matter of debate in the case, however.
A group of computer information and engineering technology experts from several top U.S. universities said in a Tuesday filing that steps are available to Ohio's 88 county election boards to easily protect against risks tied to those attachments.
But Republicans told the court that siding with Democrats could mean electronic applications arriving in other ways besides email or fax, including as text messages or submissions to an election board's Twitter account or an election director's Facebook page.
The Ohio deadline for submitting applications for an absentee, or mail-in, ballot is noon Oct. 31, but postal and election officials recommend mailing them no later than Oct. 27, a week before Election Day. Early voting begins in Ohio on Oct. 6.
This story was first published Sept. 23, 2020. It was updated on Sept. 24, 2020, to correct the name of the Franklin County common pleas judge who decided a lower court case to Stephen McIntosh, instead of Richard Frye.