While only eight states explicitly permit or require drop boxes for voting, at least 35 plan to use them this fall. And where state laws are silent on drop box use, local officials have the discretion and authority to implement them, say advocates of absentee voting.
Drop boxes could alleviate so many of the chronic ills that plague elections — from long lines to equipment breakdowns to poll worker shortages — that it’s a wonder they’re not more widely used already.
Even before the pandemic, drop box voting was going up.
In Washington — one of the five states that were proactively sending ballots and return envelopes to all voters even before the pandemic — 57 percent of the ballots were returned to a drop box in the last presidential election, up from 38 percent in 2012, according to a report last month.
Drop boxes are embraced by many GOP election officials and have been endorsed by the Election Assistance Commission, the federal agency that offers mostly nonbinding guidance to states for balloting best practices. It recommends one drop box be created for every 15,000 to 20,000 registered voters.
Now, because of the coronavirus and intensifying postal delivery fears, election officials are poised to deploy drop boxes in record numbers. Dozens of absentee ballot drop boxes have already been set up across Georgia. (You can visit AJC.com to see where they are located.)
Some types of drop boxes require more funding and advance planning to install. The permanent, outdoor variety can cost $6,000. But temporary drop boxes may also be installed outdoors or indoors and staffed at drive-through locations at peak times or overseen by poll workers on Election Day.
In the capital of battleground Wisconsin, a Madison clerk capitalized on the security and convenience of book drops at libraries closed down because of Covid-19 to turn them into temporary ballot drop boxes for the primary.
Ballot drop boxes are not a panacea, but their simplicity and practicality have made them a potential fix that more and more election administrators have decided not to overlook.
Eliza Newlin Carney writes for The Fulcrum, a nonprofit digital news organization that focuses on redistricting, voting rights, election access, government ethics, civic engagement and the imbalance of powers.