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Trump shifts his vote-by-mail assault to long-used drop boxes

Ryan Teague Beckwith
Bloomberg

President Donald Trump’s public attacks on voting by mail have a new target: the drop boxes local officials favor as a solution to getting ballots in on time.

After weeks of false claims that widespread use of mailed-in ballots is ripe for fraud, Trump went after the drop boxes states tout as a safer alternative to voting in person during the pandemic. But Trump argued that voters should not trust them because they don’t know who collects the ballots or “what might be done to them prior to tabulation.”

“Some states use drop boxes’ for the collection of Universal Mail-In ballots,” he tweeted earlier this week. “So who is going to collect’ the Ballots, and what might be done to them prior to tabulation? A Rigged Election?”

Such drop boxes have been used since at least the 1990s in the mostly Western states that have all-mail elections to ease concerns from voters who were distrustful of the mail or considered paying for a stamp a poll tax. Washington State’s Republican Secretary of State, Kim Wyman, said there has been no evidence of widespread fraud around them.

“Our voters loved them, and it totally defused all the angry calls we were getting,” she said.

But the Trump campaign is suing to limit the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania, arguing that ones placed in nursing homes, college campuses and fire stations in a recent primary were “unmonitored and/or unsecured” and were not equitably distributed.

President Donald Trump arrives to speak to a crowd of supporters at Yuma International Airport, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Yuma, Ariz.

With vote-by-mail surging around the country this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, local officials have adopted drop boxes as an added convenience that could also blunt any impact from on-going concerns that changes at the U.S. Postal Service, now paused, are slowing mail delivery.

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According to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 24 states and Washington, D.C., have drop boxes that can be used in November – including the battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – enough to tip a close election in the Electoral College.

In Colorado, “almost three quarters of the people who vote by mail use drop boxes rather than the postal service to return their ballots,” Governor Jared Polis said Tuesday at a news conference in Denver.

The Colorado secretary of state’s office is “offering additional drop box capacity to counties, and many counties have taken advantage of that and I encourage the counties that haven’t to avail themselves to that opportunity to provide secure, free drop boxes for residents, and I expect that more than the usual 70 to 75% will like use drop boxes this year, especially those who miss the cutoff date for the mail service,” Polis said.

The drop boxes themselves are sturdy stainless steel boxes that can be decorated with state flags and election information. They are generally considered so secure that a similiar design is used to collect unused opioids in some jurisdictions.

Practices differ from state to state, but drop boxes are typically guarded or under video surveillance. Ballots are generally only removed by local elections officials, in some cases while overseen by Democratic and Republican poll watchers.

This year, local elections officials and campaigns plan to stress the use of drop boxes in the final days leading up to the election, especially since most states won’t accept ballots that aren’t received by the close of polls.

That risk is something Trump stressed himself at a 2016 rally in Colorado.

“If you haven’t mailed in your ballot, don’t do that. Bring it, bring it! Take it to the drop box in your county,” he said. “Don’t put it in the mail. I know everybody says how honest everything is with our political system, but we all know better.”