Unsanctioned Ballot Collection Boxes: Expanding or Suppressing Voting Rights?

Last week, the GOP took responsibility for the placement of over 50 unofficial ballot collection boxes across the state of California.[1] This action has been identified by election officials as illegal and ripe for voter fraud.[2] The California GOP has defended their decision by citing a 2016 state law, which has since been amended, that allows a voter to designate any person to collect a completed ballot and return it to the proper vote collection center.[3] The current version of the law, however, explicitly bans ballot collection by political parties or campaigns.[4] General third party drop-off boxes, sanctioned by elections officials, are legal for use.[5]

The true contention lies in the fact that the boxes are labelled as “official” drop-off boxes. Voters dropping their ballots into these receptacles are not aware of the true identity of the party collecting their ballots. All of these factors make it clear that the California GOP is breaking the law as it stands. What we need to ask ourselves next, is whether the GOP is actually achieving the true intent of the law, to expand access to voting, or if they are infringing upon voting rights. The answer to this question will help establish whether the law, as it stands, truly achieves its goal.

In order to assess this question, we need to understand the motivation of the California GOP. Why are they erecting “official” ballot boxes around the state? The California GOP has argued that the practice is within their right. A quick reading of current state law, as described above, shows that it is, in fact, not within their right. They have claimed, albeit indirectly, that their goal is to expand voting access. They’ve characterized the Democratic Attorney General and Secretary of State’s calls for ceasing the practice as “thuggish voter intimidation and vote suppression.”[6] They contest that the drop-off boxes serve as opportunities for voters to drop their ballot off with someone they trust.[7] Since many of the boxes are deceptively labelled, I would argue that this stance is weak.

Democrats, on the other hand, believe that the GOP is making a concerted effort to suppress voting.[8] The American people are already nervous about the efficacy of mail-in voting and, as a result, more and more are turning to drop-off boxes to avoid the polls.[9] By publicly admitting to erecting unsanctioned and illegal ballot drop-off boxes, the California GOP could undermine voter confidence in this method of voting as well. To counter this argument, the GOP could produce a list of the people they’ve received ballots from, indicating that their efforts are expanding voting access rather than suppressing it but, so far, the party has refused to do so.[10]

So, California GOP ballot boxes, do they serve as expansions of voting access or voter suppression? The answer is unclear and will likely vary depending on the political party of the person you ask. Three things are certain. One, labelling non-official ballot drop-off boxes as official is misleading. Two, the California GOP did break the law. Three, each party has publicly stated that the drop-off boxes serve different purposes. In a country as political as ours is today, we might never reach a consensus on the nature of the California GOP’s intentions. As long as everyone knows what they need to do to feel secure that their ballot will be counted, these ballot boxes should have no deleterious impact on the fairness of this election. If you trust the California GOP, drop off your ballots in whichever box you like. If you don’t trust the California GOP, verify the ownership of the drop-off box you’re using or turn to another option to cast your ballot. As long as voters are aware and engaged, this issue will hopefully become irrelevant just as quickly as it leaves the news cycle.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/12/us/politics/california-gop-drop-boxes.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-10-13/california-gop-defends-unofficial-ballot-boxes

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] https://www.npr.org/2020/10/16/923969669/california-eases-off-legal-threats-over-gop-unauthorized-ballot-drop-boxes

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-10-13/california-gop-defends-unofficial-ballot-boxes

[9] https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2020/10/14/deep-divisions-in-views-of-the-election-process-and-whether-it-will-be-clear-who-won/

[10] Ibid.