Friday, 30 Oct 2020

The Fight Over Absentee Ballots Intensifies Around Drop Boxes

Democrats are pushing to expand their use, while Republicans insist, without evidence, that they make fraud easier — even as they deploy their own in California.

By Glenn Thrush and Nick Corasaniti

From lawsuits by the Trump campaign to a decree from the governor of Texas — to the sudden appearance of boxes falsely labeled “official” in California — Republicans are intensifying efforts to eliminate the use of drop boxes to collect mail-in ballots, or using them in ways that undermine confidence in their security.

In recent months, a handful of states and local governments, most of them controlled by Democrats, have expanded the use of drop boxes as a safe alternative to voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic.

They have also promoted the boxes as an alternative to using the Postal Service after voters in the primaries complained of lengthy delays or lost ballots in the mail and the Postal Service underwent controversial reforms. In response, Republicans have turned their sights on drop boxes, attempting to limit their use through state orders or lawsuits.

The battle took a bizarre turn on Monday when officials with the California Republican Party acknowledged that they were behind the placement of about 50 unofficial drop boxes in Los Angeles, Fresno and Orange Counties, affixed with a deceptive white paper label identifying them as either an “Official Ballot Drop off Box” or a “Ballot Drop Box.”

The party contended its actions were legal, but California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, sent officials a cease-and-desist letter and announced on Tuesday he was giving them 48 hours to comply or face unspecified civil, or perhaps criminal, action.

“This is like nothing I have ever seen before,” Mr. Becerra said in a phone interview on Tuesday, contending that state Republicans were trying to stir up confusion around drop boxes. “You want people to have confidence in the system, to know that if you submit a ballot it will be counted. How can you do this at a time when people are losing faith in the process?”

In Texas, a less shadowy and more consequential conflict is playing out.

Late Monday, hours before early voting began in the state, a three-judge federal panel upheld an order by Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, limiting counties to one drop box apiece, forcing high-density cities to shut down dozens of boxes they had hoped to use.

Harris County, the most populous county in Texas with more than 4.7 million residents, had already installed 12 ballot drop-off sites and was forced to reduce their locations to one: NRG Arena in Houston.

“They have no confidence in their ability to win without cheating, the whole game at this point is voter suppression, and sowing confusion,” said Lillie Schechter, chairwoman of the Democratic Party in Harris County, which contains Houston.

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