Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has proposed spending millions of federal emergency coronavirus aid dollars to cover the costs of sending election ballots through the U.S. Postal Service to nearby county election offices, where they are recorded and counted.
The governor’s top election official, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, said paying for the postage is a way to make voting more accessible, safer and easier during the coronavirus pandemic. In that regard, it is a good thing; removing barriers for legal voting always adds to the democratic process.
But before we spend millions of our tax dollars on postage each time there is an election, perhaps we should consider ballot drop boxes.
Eight states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington — use ballot drop boxes, which remain under the full supervision and possession of local election officials as a place where voters can drop off absentee or mail ballots in sealed and signed envelopes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The drop boxes may be supervised or unsupervised with security features such as cameras, the NCSL reports. Many states that permit or require ballot drop boxes set minimum requirements for where they must be located, how many a county must have, hours they must be available and other security standards.
Just last month, the Georgia State Election Board extended emergency rules for ballot drop boxes and earlier processing of absentee ballots during a runoff election in August and the general election in November.
Rather than spending millions of dollars on postage for each and every election, Pennsylvania could purchase, or assist counties in purchasing, boxes designed for drop off or drive-through ballot collection — similar to streetside mail drop off receptacles outside post offices.
Although ballot drop boxes are deployed in different ways and locations in the states that use them, it might be prudent to have these boxes located just outside each polling place and under the full supervision and custody of election officials while the polls are open. Those who have properly applied for, and obtained a mail-in or absentee ballot could then simply drive up and drop them off — or have someone else do so — without having to enter the polls. There also could be a handful of boxes located in key county locations available for drop-offs prior to election day.
The key benefit is that — unlike the postal service — the ballot enters the exclusive possession of election officials from the time it leaves the voter’s hand.
In the world of criminal investigations, legal and court procedure, this would be known as a “chain of custody,” a phrase that refers to the process of maintaining and documenting the handling of evidence — in this case ballots. It involves keeping a detailed log showing who collected, handled, transferred or analyzed evidence from the point at which it is collected.
The right of each citizen to cast their election ballot, backed by the security necessary to preserve the integrity of the ballot count, must be held to the highest standard. Voting is a precious right that demands an accessible, safe and secure collection system that also preserves a “chain of custody” for each and every ballot.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.