By ANTHONY IZAGUIRRE and CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY
ATLANTA (AP) — Extensive use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots in the 2020 election has not resulted in any widespread issues, according to an Associated Press survey of state election officials across the country. the United States which revealed no cases of fraud, vandalism or theft that could have affected the results.
The findings from Republican- and Democratic-controlled states run counter to claims by former President Donald Trump and his allies who have intensely criticized their use and falsely claimed they were the target of fraud.
Drop boxes are considered safe and secure by many election officials and have been used to varying degrees by states of all political persuasions. Yet conspiracy theories and efforts by Republicans to eliminate or restrict them since the 2020 election persist. This month, the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that drop boxes are not permitted under state law and can no longer be widely used.
Drop boxes are also the focus of the film ‘2,000 mules’, which used flawed analysis of cellphone location data and ballot box surveillance footage to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election. .
In response to legislation and conspiracy theories surrounding the ballot boxes, the AP sent an investigation in May to each state’s top election office to find out whether the ballot boxes were linked to fraudulent votes or stolen ballots, or if the ballot boxes and the ballot papers they contain have been damaged.
All but five states responded to the questions.
None of the state election offices that allowed the use of drop boxes in 2020 reported instances in which the boxes were linked to voter fraud or stolen ballots. Similarly, there were no reported incidents in which ballot boxes or ballot papers were damaged to the point of affecting election results.
Several states have said they do not allow the use of drop boxes while some did not allow them before the 2020 election, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted wider use of mail-in ballots. In states where they are used, Secretaries of State or Election Commissioners may not be aware of every incident involving a drop box if it has not been reported to their office by a county or other jurisdiction local.
Dropboxes have been a mainstay in states where mail-in voting has been prominent for years and have raised no alarms. They were widely used in 2020 as election officials sought to provide alternative ways to vote amid the COVID-19 outbreak, prompting concerns about in-person voting and U.S. Postal Service delays.
Starting months before the 2020 presidential election, Trump and his allies made a series of unsubstantiated claims suggesting that drop boxes open the door to voter fraud. Republican state lawmakers, as part of their effort to add new voting restrictions, in turn imposed rules on when and where the boxes could be viewed.
Arizona Assistant Secretary of State Allie Bones said drop boxes are “safe and secure” and might even be considered more secure than Postal Service mailboxes. She said bipartisan teams across the state collect ballots from ballot boxes and bring them directly to secure election facilities, following so-called chain-of-custody protocols.
“That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the USPS, and I think they’re doing a great job as well, but the hysteria around the ballot boxes, I think, is just a made-up thing to create doubt and fear,” Bones said.
Arizona has had robust mail-in voting for years that includes the use of drop boxes, and in the AP investigation the state reported no damage, stolen ballots or fraud associated with them in 2020. Nonetheless, Trump-aligned lawmakers in the state pushed for legislation that would ban drop boxes, but were blocked by Democrats and several Republicans who disagreed with the strategy.
Of the states that responded to the survey, 15 indicated that drop boxes were used before 2020 and 22 have no limit on the number of boxes that can be used in elections this fall.
Republican-led Florida and North Dakota and Democratic-led New York State did not respond. Montana and Virginia did, but did not respond to poll questions related to the 2020 election.
Last year, five states added new restrictions at the ballot box, according to a study by the Voting Rights Lab. This included Georgia, where President Joe Biden won a narrow victory and drop boxes were allowed under a pandemic-induced emergency rule.
Georgia Republicans say their changes have made drop boxes a permanent option for voters, 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.
Along with the incidents recorded in the news, the AP found a handful of cases in 2020 in which drop boxes were damaged.
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 were still legible enough for voters to be identified, notified and sent as replacements. .
A drop box was set on fire in Los Angeles County in 2020, but a local election official said the vast majority of damaged ballots were recovered and voters provided new ballots.
“The irony is that they were set up to address an issue with the post office and to make sure people had a safe way to return their ballots,” the secretary said. State of Michigan, Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. “And so there are no real legitimate concerns, except, again, potential external threats or people who have been radicalized by misinformation to try to tamper with drop boxes to make a point.”
Izaguirre reported from Tallahassee, Florida. Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin; Harm Venhuizen in Milwaukee; and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.