Ballot drop boxes are next legal fight in voting

Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail this fall as the nation grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.
Published: Aug. 12, 2020 at 12:27 PM CDT
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(CNN) – Millions of Americans are expected to vote by mail this fall as the nation grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

The state of Connecticut recently expanded the use of ballot drop boxes, giving people a way to bypass the U.S. Postal Service.

“It’s very simple. Fill it out, drop it off, no problem,” said voter Marci Milward.

Drop boxes have been installed all around the state, one of several changes made to create more options for voting during the pandemic.

It’s been pretty much uncontroversial, said Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill.

“They are strongly in favor, strongly in favor, because it gives them more options,” she said.

But in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Republicans are already challenging the state’s use of drop boxes, arguing in a lawsuit that allowing ballots to be collected in the boxes “allows illegal absent and mail-in voting, ballot harvesting, and other fraud to occur and/or go undetected, and will result in dilution of validly cast ballots.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump continues to spread false claims of fraud with ballots submitted by mail.

“So, when [California Gov. Gavin Newsom] sends out 28 million ballots and they’re in all the mailboxes, and kids go and they raid the mailboxes, and they hand them to people that are signing the ballots down the end of the street … you don’t think that happens?” Trump said.

Though opponents say ballots could be stolen or vandalized in unsecured drop boxes, Merrill said she’s seen no evidence of fraud, tampering or vandalism.

“The clerks empty these things a couple of times a day, actually, and they usually are in very prominent places,” Merrill said. “It would be really difficult to vandalize one of these boxes.”

“They’re bolted to the ground. I mean, it’s really quite a secure system.”

In Hartford, Connecticut, local election officials say they empty the boxes every hour in the days before election day.

The inner envelopes containing the ballots are then timestamped, and barcodes on the ballots are scanned as part of the process to ensure one person, one vote.

But this year, drop boxes may be the next front in the partisan battle over vote-by-mail.

“To me, it’s just another voter suppression,” said Noel McGregor, the Hartford town and city clerk. “We’re supposed to enhance voters’ ability to participate in the electoral process.”

States like California, Washington and Colorado have used drop boxes for years.

In Colorado, which votes almost entirely by mail, 75% of all ballots in 2018 were returned through ballot boxes or manually at polling locations, officials say.

Officials in Connecticut see little reason for the controversy.

“It’s a way of scaring the public and trying to make them doubt their election system, and it’s very destructive,” Merrill said of the attacks on mail-in voting.

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