ATLANTA ( Associated Press) — The expanded use of mail-in ballot drop boxes during the 2020 election did not cause any widespread problems, according to an Associated Press survey of U.S. state election officials that revealed no cases of fraud, vandalism or theft that could have affected the results.
The findings from the Republican- and Democratic-controlled states contradict claims made by former President Donald Trump and his allies, who have strongly criticized their use and falsely claimed they were being targeted for fraud.
Drop boxes are considered safe by many election officials and have been used to varying degrees by states across the political spectrum. However, conspiracy theories and efforts by Republicans to remove or restrict them since the 2020 election persist. This month, the conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that drop boxes are not allowed under state law and no longer they can be widely used.
The mailboxes are also a focal point of the movie “2,000 Mules,” which used flawed analysis of cell phone location data and surveillance footage of the mailboxes to deposit ballots to cast doubt on the results of the presidential election. of 2020.
In response to the legislation and conspiracy theories surrounding the drop boxes, the Associated Press sent a survey in May to each state’s main elections office seeking information on whether the drop boxes were linked to fraudulent votes or stolen ballots, or whether mailboxes and the contained ballots were damaged.
All but five states responded to questions.
None of the election offices in states that allowed drop boxes in 2020 reported cases where drop boxes were connected to voter fraud or stolen ballots. Likewise, none reported incidents in which the ballot boxes or ballots were damaged to the degree of affecting the electoral results.
Several states said they don’t allow the use of drop boxes, while some hadn’t before the 2020 election, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted a broader 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 a county or other local jurisdiction did not report it to their office.
Drop boxes have been a mainstay in states with extensive mail-in voting for years, and they haven’t raised any red flags. They were used extensively in 2020 as election officials sought to provide alternative ways to cast votes with the COVID-19 outbreak raising concerns about in-person voting and US Postal Service delays.
Since months before the 2020 presidential election, Trump and his allies have made a series of unsubstantiated claims suggesting drop boxes open the door to voter fraud. Republican state lawmakers, as part of their push to add new voting restrictions, have in turn set rules for when and where polls can be accessed.
Arizona Deputy Secretary of State Allie Bones said the mailboxes are “safe and secure” and could even be considered more secure than Postal Service mailboxes. She said bipartisan teams in the state collect ballots from drop boxes and take them directly to secure election facilities, following so-called chain-of-custody protocols.
“Not to say there’s anything wrong with the USPS, and I think they do a great job too, but I think the hysteria around the ballot box 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 Associated Press survey, the state reported no damage, stolen ballots or fraud associated with them in 2020. However, lawmakers aligned with Trump on the The state pushed for legislation that would ban drop boxes, but was blocked by Democrats and several Republicans who disagreed with the strategy.
Of the states that responded to the survey, 15 indicated that the drop boxes were in use before 2020 and 22 have no limits on how many can be used in elections this fall.
Florida and North Dakota, led by Republicans, and New York, led by Democrats, did not respond. Montana and Virginia did, but did not answer survey questions related to the 2020 election.
Last year, five states added new restrictions on ballot boxes, according to research by the Voting Rights Lab. That included Georgia, where President Joe Biden won a narrow victory and where drop boxes were allowed under an emergency rule sparked by the pandemic.
Georgia Republicans say their changes have made drop boxes a permanent option for voters, requiring every county to have at least one. But the legislation, which includes a formula of one polling place per 100,000 registered voters, means there will be fewer available in the state’s most populous communities compared to 2020.
Along with the incidents recorded in news reports, the Associated Press found a handful of cases in 2020 in which mailboxes were damaged.
Washington state officials said there were instances of vehicles hitting mailboxes, but no ballot tampering was reported. Massachusetts election officials said one box was damaged by arson in October 2020, but most of the ballots inside were still legible enough to identify, notify and mail replacements to voters.
A mailbox burned down in Los Angeles County in 2020, but a local election official said the vast majority of the damaged ballots were recovered and voters provided new ballots.
“The irony is that they were put in place to respond to an issue with the post office and make sure people had a safe way to return their ballots,” said Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat. “And so there’s no real legitimate concern except, again, for potential external threats or people who have been radicalized through misinformation to try to manipulate mailboxes 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.