DEMOCRACY MAPS POLICY SPOTLIGHT:
The Battle Over Ballot Drop Boxes
In advance of the 2022 midterms, ballot drop boxes are back in the spotlight with several states restricting ballot drop boxes. Politicians have sued, drafted legislation, and passed a variety of contradictory bills about this method of dropping off a ballot. Ballot drop boxes have been used successfully for a decade, so what is this all about?
The 2020 election saw historic levels of turnout and mail voting, including 41% of voters who reported returning their ballot to a drop box. This option took on added importance given the COVID pandemic, as many voters sought to avoid in-person polling places. In addition, delays in postal services also contributed to a rise in the use of drop boxes as voters sought to ensure their ballots arrived in time to be counted.
Ballot drop boxes are a simple idea: they allow voters the option of returning their absentee and mail ballots to a secure receptacle without needing to rely on the postal service.
However, amid the contentious rhetoric surrounding the 2020 election, some federal and state elected officials newly sought to misrepresent drop boxes as contributing to voter fraud, allegations which have repeatedly been proven false.
Drop boxes have long been a secure option for voters to return their ballots — with states across the political spectrum, from Colorado to Utah, allowing voters this option long before the 2020 election without controversy. Drop boxes are fortified and secure receptacles, and usually bolted deeply into the ground. States also utilize many options to further fortify drop boxes, including video camera surveillance. In short, drop boxes provide a very secure method for returning a ballot — at least as secure as mailing a ballot back.
Despite this evidence, some state legislatures have restricted the use of drop boxes. Among the concerning laws enacted in 2021:
- Florida restricted the availability and location of drop boxes and required them to be monitored in person at all times.
- Georgia restricted their availability to one drop box per 100,000 voters.
- Iowa restricted their availability to one drop box per county that is only open during election office hours.
This momentum has continued into the 2022 election cycle, as state legislatures continue to debate the issue of drop boxes, in some instances attempting to ban them altogether. Among the 2022 state bills introduced so far related to drop boxes:
- Georgia, Mississippi, and Virginia are considering bills to eliminate or ban the use of drop boxes.
- Arizona’s bill would restrict the use of drop boxes by requiring that they be monitored in person at all times.
- Nebraska is considering a bill that would establish helpful security measures for drop boxes that also preserve adequate access for voters.
- New Jersey, Rhode Island, and West Virginia are considering bills to either allow or expand the use of drop boxes.
The incredible difference in access to drop boxes is not surprising, given that access to democracy and voting varies dramatically by state and region of the country, with more than three in five voters living in states with inadequate election laws and policies.
MAP’s Democracy Maps track more than 40 voting and elections laws and policies for each state, including policies related to ballot drop boxes. As more voters choose alternatives to in-person voting, ballot drop boxes will continue to be an important policy to protect equal access to voting and ensure that ballots are received in time to be counted.
MAP will continue to provide relevant updates on this policy and others in our Democracy Maps, in addition to tracking emerging election issues.