Republicans win court battles as they go after drop boxes in key states

Jon Ward
·Senior Political Correspondent
·4 min read

Federal judges in the last week have upheld moves by Republicans in Texas and Ohio to limit drop boxes in their states, reversing lower court rulings that would have given voters more options for returning a mail ballot in person before Election Day.

The rulings are part of a pattern across the country this year for the Republican Party, which has tried to limit options for voters in many states. In Pennsylvania, the state Republican Party and President Trump’s reelection campaign sued to block drop boxes from being used at all but were denied by the state Supreme Court.

Drop boxes are secure receptacles managed by state and local election officials in which voters can deposit mail or absentee ballots — which are essentially the same thing in almost every state — and not have to worry about them getting lost in the mail or delivered too late to be counted. Counties assign bipartisan teams of election workers to retrieve the ballots and bring them back to the county office.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Oct. 1 limiting drop boxes to one per county. That decision was ruled unconstitutional on Oct. 9 by a federal judge, but then that ruling was overturned the next day by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose had limited drop boxes to one per county as well, despite vigorous pushback from Democrats who sued him over the decision. On Oct. 8, a federal judge overturned LaRose, only to see a different appellate court, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, reverse that a day later.

A voter drops of his election ballot in the drop box at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in April, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Tony Dejak/AP)
A voter drops off his election ballot in a drop box at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland in April. (Tony Dejak/AP)

Over the summer, LaRose said he was willing to expand drop boxes and told Yahoo News in an interview that he would do so if the state Legislature gave him authority. More recently he has said it is now too late to expand drop boxes, even though election officials in Cuyahoga County — home to the city of Cleveland — have plans ready to implement if they are given the green light.

But while the Trump campaign has argued that drop boxes are vulnerable to fraud, LaRose and other Republican voting experts have discounted that notion.

“I’m completely supportive of convenient, secure drop boxes. I’d love to see us be able to expand those,” LaRose told Yahoo News.

Similarly, Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams has said drop boxes are popular in his state among Republican voters.

“It turns out that the Republicans like these better than the Democrats do because the Republicans have less confidence in the postal system and they’re more likely to want to drop that and see it go into the bin. So actually the drop box has been really popular,” Adams told Yahoo News in August.

But in competitive swing states, Republicans have tried very hard to limit drop boxes, which have become more attractive to voters seeking a way to avoid voting in person because of COVID-19, or just because of ease.

Workers drop voters ballots into a secure box at a ballot drop off location on October 13, 2020 in Austin, Texas. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)
Workers drop voters’ ballots into a drop box in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)

About two-thirds of all states across the country have some number of drop boxes.

Meanwhile in California, the state Republican Party has taken the opposite tack of GOP chapters in states like Texas and Ohio. The California Republican Party has come under fire from state officials for deploying unofficial drop boxes to collect ballots from voters at places where Republican voters are likely to congregate, like conservative churches and gun stores.

California has one of the most permissive laws on ballot collection in the country, and so Republicans — who in other states dismiss the practice as “ballot harvesting” and denounce it as insecure — are deploying these unofficial drop boxes.

But Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both Democrats, have said the party could face legal consequences, including criminal prosecution in places where they have labeled the receptacles “official.”

Cover thumbnail photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

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