With the frequent misinformation being spread about voting by mail, it's natural to feel confused about how to safely and effectively cast a ballot this fall. While the president continues to undermine vote-by-mail procedures by falsely stating that voting by mail is synonymous with voter fraud (there is currently no evidence of this), mail-in voting is unequivocally a safer alternative to voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has warned that lack of funding, amongst other factors that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, are expected to cause potential delays in ballots being received on time, causing major concern for voters about whether their votes will be counted at all. One solution to the delays? Ballot drop boxes.
Rather than submitting absentee/mail-in ballots through the postal service, voters (especially last-minute voters!) across the country can drop off their sealed and signed ballots in locked ballot drop boxes. Depending on their location, ballot drop boxes are often monitored by surveillance cameras or election workers that work specified hours—offering a secure, faster alternative to submitting completed absentee/mail-in ballots. (To be clear, there are certain locations that are not monitored by cameras or election officials, though this is not recommended to election officials.)
The number of drop boxes available vary widely by state, and are often located at a main county or city office building, like a public library or City Hall. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) advises that ballot drop locations are strategically placed with one drop box for every 15,000 to 20,000 voters, which is why filling out the U.S. Census and making sure you're counted is incredibly important. (You can complete the census here.) Ultimately, ballot drop box accessibility depends on your state's Board of Elections and Secretary of State (the latter whom serves as the state's chief elections official), whose duty is to make ballot drop box locations known to voters. With an increase in voter suppression, this information can be difficult to find, which is why it's important to know that these ballot drop boxes do exist—they may just take some digging to locate.
Here, we've answered some of the main questions voters may have about ballot drop boxes and how to locate them in your area:
Were ballot drop boxes around before COVID-19?
Yes. States like Washington and Colorado, which practice universal mail-in voting, have successfully used ballot drop boxes for years. You can see the percentage of people who used ballot drop boxes in Washington here.
Wait, am I even allowed to request an absentee/mail-in ballot and use a ballot drop box?
Most likely yes, but some states require a non-COVID-19 related excuse to request an absentee/mail-in ballot. You can find out your state's vote-by-mail rules here, including how to track your ballot and confirm it was received.
What are the security requirements for unstaffed ballot drop boxes?
The EAC says, at the very least, these ballot drop boxes should be made out of steel and permanently cemented into the ground (it costs about $6,000 per drop box to do this). Additionally, each ballot drop box should have the following:
- Video surveillance camera
- Media storage device (for recorded video)
- Decal (branding and information)
- Extra keys for opening slot and access door
- Security seals
Can someone else drop off my ballot at the drop box for me?
According to the EAC, as of March 30, 2020:
- 27 states permit an absentee ballot to be returned by a designated agent, which can be a family member, attorney, or care provider should the person not be able to drop off their own ballot.
- Nine states permit an absentee ballot to be returned by the voter’s family member.
- One state specifies that an absentee ballot can only be returned in person or by mail.
- 13 states do not expressly address this issue.
Can I drop off my ballot at my local county Board of Elections rather than a drop box?
Yes. In most states (reminder: you'll need to check your state's exact rules), this is another option if you prefer not to submit your ballot by mail or in a ballot drop box.
Who collects my ballot from ballot drop boxes?
The EAC recommends that counties hire bipartisan temporary workers to pick up the ballots on a regular basis. The teams will need the following to do this:
- Vehicle such as a van or SUV where the seats can be laid flat (county owned or rented)
- Radio or cell phone
- Secure ballot collection bag/box
- Security seals
- Chain of custody procedures/forms
- Personal protective equipment (e.g. disposable, sterile gloves), as appropriate and in accordance to current CDC guidance
What if I'm located in a rural community and there isn't a ballot drop box near me?
Contact your state's secretary of state via phone or email and demand an increase in ballot drop boxes in your area.
What if I live near a ballot drop box but simply can't access it due to transportation issues or other factors?
You can still vote in person or vote by mail—if you're doing the latter, be sure to request an absentee/mail-in ballot today and mail your completed ballot at least two weeks before the election on November 3, 2020, to ensure it arrives on time.
How do I find my closest ballot drop box location, plus my county rules and deadlines?
You'll find a few states' general ballot drop box rules here, but the best way to find the latest information would be on your state's Board of Elections website or by googling your specific county's drop box locations. If you're unsure where to start, click here.
Rachel Epstein is an editor at Marie Claire, where she writes and edits culture, politics, and lifestyle stories ranging from op-eds to profiles to ambitious packages. She also manages the site’s virtual book club, #ReadWithMC. Offline, she’s likely watching a Heat game, finding a new coffee shop, or analyzing your cousin's birth chart—in no particular order.
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