AP finds no major problems with ballot drop boxes in 2020

The survey did not identify any instances of fraud, vandalism, or theft that could have affected the results.

ATLANTA — The expanded use of Dropboxes for mail-in ballots during the 2020 election did not result in widespread problems, according to an Associated Press survey of state election officials in the United States, which found no instances of fraud, vandalism, or theft that could have impacted the results .

The findings, from both Republican- and Democrat-controlled states, contradict claims made by former President Donald Trump and his allies, who have heavily criticized their use and falsely claimed they are a target for fraud.

Mailboxes are considered secure by many election officials and have been used to varying degrees by states across the political spectrum. Yet conspiracy theories and Republican efforts to eliminate or limit them since the 2020 election persist. This month, the conservative majority in the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that state law disallows drop boxes and can no longer be widely distributed.

Dropboxes are also a focus of the film 2,000 Mules, which used flawed analysis of cellphone location data and surveillance footage of ballot boxes to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election.

In May, in response to the legislation and conspiracy theories surrounding drop boxes, the AP sent a survey to each state’s top elections office to gather information on whether the boxes were linked to fraudulent votes or stolen ballots, or whether the boxes and the ballots contained them were included were damaged.

All but five states responded to the questions.

None of the polling stations in states that allowed the use of drop boxes in 2020 reported instances where the boxes were linked to voter fraud or stolen ballots. Nor have incidents been reported where the boxes or ballot papers were damaged to an extent that would have affected the election results.

Several states said they would not allow the use of mailboxes, while some had not allowed them before the 2020 election, when the coronavirus pandemic led to more widespread use of mail-in ballots. In states where they are used, secretaries of state or commissioners of elections may not be aware of every incident involving a Dropbox unless it has been reported to their office by a county or other local jurisdiction.

Dropboxes have been a mainstay in states with extensive postal voting for years and hadn’t raised any alarms. They were widely used in 2020 as election officials attempted to provide alternative ways to vote in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, raising concerns about in-person voting and U.S. Postal Service delays.

For months leading up to the 2020 presidential election, Trump and his allies have been making a series of unsubstantiated claims that suggest mailboxes open the floodgates to voter fraud. Republican lawmakers, in turn, have imposed rules on when and where the boxes can be accessed as part of an effort to add new voting restrictions.

Arizona Deputy Secretary of State Allie Bones said mailboxes are “safe and secure” and could even be considered more secure than Postal Service mailboxes. She said bipartisan teams in the state are collecting ballots from the dropboxes and taking them directly to secure voting facilities under what are known as chain-of-custody protocols.

“Not to say there’s something wrong with USPS, and I think they’re doing a great job too, but the ballot box hysteria is just a fabrication in my opinion to create doubt and fear,” Bones said.

Arizona has had a robust mail-in voting system that includes the use of Dropboxes for years, and in the AP survey the state reported no damages, stolen ballots, or fraud related to it in 2020. Despite this, lawmakers in the state close to Trump pushed for legislation that would ban dropboxes, but were stymied by Democrats and several Republicans who disagreed with the strategy.

Of the states that responded to the survey, 15 said Dropboxes were used before 2020, and 22 have no limit on how many can be used in the fall election.

Republican-led Florida and North Dakota and Democrat-led New York did not respond. Montana and Virginia did so, but did not answer the poll questions related to the 2020 election.

According to research by the Voting Rights Lab, five states added new restrictions to ballot boxes in the past year. That included Georgia, where President Joe Biden won a narrow victory and where drop boxes were allowed under an emergency rule triggered by the pandemic.

Georgia Republicans say their changes have resulted in dropboxes being a permanent option for voters and requiring all counties to have at least one. But the legislation, which includes a formula of one box per 100,000 registered voters, means fewer will be available in the state’s most populous communities compared to 2020.

In addition to incidents recorded in news reports, AP found a handful of cases in 2020 of Dropboxes becoming corrupted.

Washington state officials said there have been instances of drop boxes being hit by vehicles, but no ballot tampering has been reported. Massachusetts election officials said a box was damaged by arson in October 2020, but most of the ballots inside are still legible enough to identify voters, notify them and send replacements.

In 2020, a Los Angeles County mailbox was set on fire, but a local elections official said the vast majority of the damaged ballots were salvaged and voters provided new ballots.

“The irony is that they were set up to respond to a problem with the mail and to ensure people have a safe way to return their ballots,” Democratic Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said. “And so there isn’t really a legitimate concern other than potential external threats or people radicalized by misinformation to try and manipulate Dropboxes to make a mark.”

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Alley Einstein

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