Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced on Wednesday that he will ban county election boards from offering more than a single ballot drop box amid growing concerns that cost-cutting measures implemented by a Trump donor at the helm of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will impact an expected surge of mail ballots in November.
Citing time constraints, LaRose, a Republican, said election boards will not be able to offer more than one drop box for absentee ballots. Early voting in Ohio begins on Oct. 6.
"With under three months to go until Election Day, I don't think it's time to change the way we have done things here in Ohio and add new drop boxes and questions about the validity of that," LaRose said at a Wednesday news conference.
The secretary of state sent a directive Wednesday to Ohio election officials, which warned that "boards of elections are prohibited from installing a drop box at any other location other than the board of elections."
Democrats, as well as voting rights groups, claim that installing additional drop boxes is both legal and necessary. Nothing under state law prevents election officials from offering more than one drop box, according to Cleveland.com.
Pointing to the Trump campaign's pending lawsuit against Pennsylvania over its plan to offer drop boxes, LaRose claimed that allowing extra would draw legal challenges. LaRose said he asked Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, a fellow Republican, for a legal opinion three weeks ago; however, he has not heard back.
"I don't want to subject our county boards of election to a bunch of wasteful litigation," he said, "but I do hope our legislature weighs in on it."
In response, Democrats accused LaRose of "voter suppression," Cleveland.com reported. They also called the request to Yost a "charade that would allow LaRose to eventually run out the clock."
Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for Yost, told the outlet that the attorney general was preparing to issue a legal opinion this week before LaRose withdrew his request on Tuesday.
LaRose blamed the Republican-led state legislature for being slow to respond to issues surrounding the upcoming election. The legislature has delayed votes on whether or not to allow residents to request ballots online; whether or not to delay the deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot; and whether or not to approve LaRose's plan to add pre-paid postage on ballot applications and blank ballots.
"I think that it's a good thing for Ohio to have that," LaRose said Wednesday of the latter. "But again, I'm not going to act outside the law and subject Ohio to a bunch of litigation on this, particularly when I think that's litigation that we would likely lose."
LaRose warned voters not to wait to request and submit their absentee ballots in order to ensure they will be counted, noting that the "Postal Service is not operating at peak efficiency."
But Democrats rejected the blame cast by LaRose.
"This has nothing to do with the legislature, who LaRose likes to blame for everything he doesn't want to do," Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said in a tweet. "This is his decision to artificially limit drop boxes to one per county. It's a terrible decision, totally disregarding voter safety."
Democrats claim that Ohio law does not need to be changed in order for LaRose to implement the changes.
"It's just ridiculous to me that he keeps blaming the legislature for not acting," state Rep. Bride Rose Sweeney, a Democrat, told the Columbus Dispatch.
Ballot drop boxes have swelled in importance this year. As LaRose noted, the USPS is "not operating at peak efficiency" after recently-installed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a top Trump and Republican Party donor, implemented a number of cost-cutting moves at the cash-strapped agency, which have slowed down mail delivery. The USPS has also removed mail sorting equipment from post offices, and plans to cut service and nearly triple the cost of states' postage to mail ballots have advanced.
Democrats have tried to provide emergency aid to the agency, but President Donald Trump told Fox Business on Thursday that he will continue to block aid to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), publicly acknowledging that doing so would undermine states' plans to expand mail-in voting for Election Day.
Trump has falsely claimed that voting by mail is rife with fraud and favors Democrats. Hundreds of millions of mail ballots have been used in the U.S. over the last two decades and five states, including red ones, already have all-mail election with no signs of any significant fraud or party advantage.
"They need that money in order to have the Post Office work so it can take all of these millions of ballots," Trump said in the Thursday interview with Maria Bartiromo. "If they don't get [the aid], that means you can't have universal mail-in voting, because they're not equipped."
Democrats have accused Trump and DeJoy of trying to "sabotage" the postal system ahead of an election he is currently projected to lose. Many have pointed to ballot drop boxes as a way to avoid having a ballot request or completed mail-in ballot become ensnared in postal delays amid crucial deadlines.
States such as Michigan and Connecticut already offer hundreds of ballot drop boxes, while others are considering adding them amid concerns over in-person voting during the coronavirus pandemic. But some red states, such as Tennessee, have banned drop boxes, and the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee are trying to block Pennsylvania's expansion of them.
"There's a lot of confusion just at the moment about when the ballots got mailed, to whom, when they're going to arrive," Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill told NPR. "It's going to be very tight, and ballot boxes play an increasingly important role in all this, because you know, you shave off two, three, four, maybe five days from when you mail a ballot."
Kristen Clarke, who heads the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, testified to the Senate earlier this year that drop boxes have long been a key election access option for voters and are even more important this year amid polling location closings and pandemic fears.
"They complement the limited postal [services] that are available in communities," she said, "and are just critical to providing access this season."