The Republican War on Drop Boxes Continues
At the beginning of 2022, we highlighted the growing Republican war on drop boxes — how former President Donald Trump’s baseless assertions led Republicans across the country to turn on a widely supported, commonsense tool for mail-in voting. In 2021, multiple GOP-controlled states like Georgia and Iowa passed new restrictions on drop box use and legislators introduced similar bills in several others.
Over a year later, such attacks have only continued, both through legislation and in the courtroom. Even as some Republican leaders seem to be walking back their opposition to drop boxes, likely due to a lackluster showing in the midterm elections, it looks like the war on drop boxes is here to stay.
Some Republican states have banned drop boxes completely — even in states where they’ve never been used before.
While laws targeting drop boxes in 2021 often limited their use, efforts in 2023 have banned them entirely. Both Arkansas and South Dakota passed blanket drop box bans, even though Arkansas has never even used them in an election before. In addition to those two states, bills banning drop boxes advanced in Georgia, Kansas and Virginia; however, none of those bills managed to clear the legislative process before each state’s 2023 legislative session ended.
In their omnibus anti-voting law enacted earlier this year, Ohio Republicans settled for merely restricting drop boxes. In January, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed House Bill 458, the first voter suppression bill of the year, into law. H.B. 458 limits every Ohio county to just a single in-person drop off location for mail-in ballots — and permits, but does not require, these locations to have a drop box. In practice, this means that Franklin County, a county with nearly 1.5 million residents, has the same number of drop off locations as Vinton County, which has a population of 12,000. If counties choose not to include a drop box at these in-person drop off locations, voters will likely only be able to drop off ballots during working hours since only drop boxes are accessible 24/7.
Republicans also advanced drop box restrictions at the local level. Fulton County, Pennsylvania, a rural county on the Maryland border, voted to ban drop boxes except on Election Day, severely limiting their availability to voters. Luzerne County, Pennsylvania similarly considered a proposal to prohibit the county from spending money to distribute drop boxes, although the county council ultimately rejected it. The legislative front in the war on drop boxes is alive and well.
Conservative groups sued to ban the use of drop boxes in several states.
Republican attacks on drop boxes are not limited to legislation. In some states where the GOP has failed to enact laws, the party or their conservative allies have sought to limit drop boxes through the judicial process.
Back in 2021, the conservative group Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) brought a lawsuit against the use of drop boxes in the Badger State. WILL argued that drop boxes are unauthorized by current Wisconsin law, and on July 8, 2022, the then-conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed. As a consequence of this effort, drop boxes are effectively banned in Wisconsin unless the Wisconsin Legislature passes a law permitting their use. With the Legislature remaining in Republican hands after the 2022 midterms, that likely won’t happen any time soon.
WILL’s lawsuit wasn’t the only legal action against drop boxes in Wisconsin last year; the Thomas More Society, another right-wing legal group, brought lawsuits against their use in municipalities throughout the state. Conservatives took a similar strategy in Pennsylvania, another state where Gov. Tom Wolf (D) prevented Republican legislators from enacting any new restrictions on drop boxes. America First Legal, a conservative group founded by Mark Meadows and Stephen Miller, filed lawsuits seeking limits on drop boxes in Lehigh and Chester counties. The legal efforts succeeded in getting Chester County to implement new rules for drop boxes, including provisions for monitoring them, while Republicans were unsuccessful in Lehigh County.
A few other states saw legal efforts targeting drop boxes. Michigan secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo (R) filed a lawsuit against Detroit’s handling of mail-in ballots, including its use of drop boxes. Further west in Colorado, the Republican running in state House District 10 tried to get Boulder County to add monitoring to its drop boxes. Neither effort succeeded.
Finally — in one of the more outlandish lawsuits — six conservative voters in Kansas challenged the 2020 election results and claimed that drop boxes violated the Kansas Constitution. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed on Nov. 10, 2022.
Republican rhetoric even inspired vigilantism in Arizona.
Beyond official, governmental channels, Republican rhetoric on drop boxes has manifested in uglier ways. During the lead up to the 2022 midterms, reports surfaced in Arizona of armed vigilantes monitoring drop boxes. The incidents came after Arizona Republicans, including secretary of state candidate and election denier Mark Finchem, urged conservatives to watch drop boxes for suspected fraud.
On Oct. 24, civic groups sued the right-wing organization Clean Elections USA for “recruit[ing] or encourag[ing]” vigilantes to monitor drop boxes. A second lawsuit soon followed on Oct. 25. Two right-wing groups named in the second lawsuit then announced that they would abandon “sponsorship” of their operation to monitor drop boxes.
On Nov. 1, a federal judge in the combined lawsuits issued a temporary restraining order, preventing Clean Elections USA from engaging in certain drop box monitoring activities. The judge also instructed the organization’s founder to post details of the restraining order on the group’s website and on TruthSocial. Arizona’s armed vigilantes demonstrate how far-reaching and dangerous the war on drop boxes has become, inspiring some individuals to engage in voter intimidation.
Some conservative leaders have changed their mind about drop boxes, but it doesn’t look like rank-and-file Republicans will heed their calls.
These legal and legislative efforts have continued even though some Republican leaders have changed their tune about drop boxes. After worse-than-expected results in the 2022 midterms, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel appeared to come out in favor of mail-in voting. During remarks on Fox News, she said, “there were many in 2020 saying ‘Don’t vote by mail, don’t vote early.’ And we have to stop that.’”
Trump, despite being the original catalyst for the war on mail-in voting and drop boxes, spoke even more explicitly in favor of drop boxes. Only a few months after the 2022 midterms, in a February post on TruthSocial, Trump endorsed a plan to place drop boxes at churches, writing: “BEST IDEA I’VE HEARD IN A LONG TIME…PUT THEM ALL OVER THE PLACE. RNC, EVERY REPUBLICAN, GET TO WORK ON THIS NOW!!!”
But it seems that there’s little appetite among Republican legislators to heed this call. McDaniel made her comments in December 2022 and Trump’s TruthSocial post came in February. Almost all of the aforementioned bills banning or restricting drop boxes came in the months following both statements, and there’s no sign the wave of attacks will abate anytime soon. The conspiracy theories about mail-in voting and drop boxes have become so deeply entrenched among Republicans that it’s now outside Trump’s control. What started with Trump and his allies has become much more entrenched, and we might be dealing with the consequences of it no matter what happens in 2024.