Partisan rancor over voting methods threatens the American public’s trust in the legitimacy of elections. Ballot drop boxes, a campaign issue in Georgia’s Republican primary elections for the position of Lieutenant Governor, are the latest target for concerns of voter fraud. The abolishment of ballot drop boxes is a threat to American democracy. The reason for this is because the controversy surrounding drop boxes is representative of a larger legislative trend of altering voting laws, aimed at disenfranchising lower-class, BIPOC, and disabled individuals. Thus, the elimination of drop boxes, in national and local elections, will only serve to contribute to the polarization of concerns over election fraud and erode trust in the fundamental democratic process of voting.
During the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic, ballot drop boxes emerged as a useful voting mechanism as voters feared contagion and mail service slowed. The use of drop boxes eliminates the issue of postage costs and helps to assure voters, who worry about lost or delayed mail, that their vote has been counted. Given their convenient nature, ballot drop boxes should be lauded as a symbol of American democracy.
However, ballot drop boxes have become a rallying point for claims of election fraud. Former President Donald Trump, tweeting in January 2022, declared that “drop boxes are only good for Democrats and cheating.” And distrust in the electoral process should not be trivialized as Trumpism and should be addressed in a different forum. When the public’s trust in the legitimacy of the vote erodes, political institutions of democracy are affected. As Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky note, “if the people hold democratic values, democracy will be safe” . Without universal faith in the vote and those elected as a result of said vote, American democracy is endangered.
In Georgia, which is quickly becoming a key swing state, the 2022 election for Lieutenant Governor has become embroiled in the debate over ballot drop boxes. State Senator Butch Miller declared himself to be the “candidate… fighting to eliminate drop boxes.” Miller, who was one of the original sponsors of the 2020 Senate Bill 202, is on the frontlines of this debate and has framed it as an issue of security, claiming that eliminating drop boxes will “rebuild the trust” among voters worried about “securing… elections against fraud.” While the elimination of drop boxes may “rebuild trust” among voters, it will do so selectively. The elimination of drop boxes will harm racial minorities, senior citizens, and those with disabilities. Without drop boxes, free and fair elections for all are imperiled.
As explained by political scientist Nancy Bermeo, the majority of election-related backsliding now occurs before election day with the use of strategic manipulation to “tilt the electoral playing field in favor of the incumbents” . Thus, the elimination of drop boxes by state legislatures clearly fits into this definition of a cause of democratic backsliding. By removing or limiting drop box access, or even casting doubt on the legitimacy of drop boxes, in anticipation of an election, incumbent candidates are able to discourage high voter participation.
The effect of drop boxes on voter turnout is very real. In the 2020 presidential election, 66% of voters said that convenience was a major motivating factor in their decision to vote. 46% of voters voted by absentee or mail-in ballot, and 41% of these voters returned their ballots to a drop box. However, where the numbers become an issue for politicians is the division along party lines on the use of ballot drop boxes: only 33% of Trump voters were absentee voters while 58% of Biden voters were absentee voters. Removing an absentee option would cripple the Democratic Party’s ability to encourage high numbers of voting among their base and would surely fragment their electoral power, making way for more frequent Republican victories.
In an address on the Senate floor, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) decried current voting legislation that has been passed or is being debated in at least 19 states. As he pointed out, in the 2020 presidential election, some Georgians, primarily in black neighborhoods, waited up to 10 hours to vote on November 3rd, 2020.
Universal suffrage is not a reality. Poll taxes have been reinstated in subtle ways. To wait 10 hours on a poll line, while earning the federal minimum wage, is equivalent to paying $72.50 to cast a vote. Consequently, universal suffrage is denied or abridged on account of class. Those who cannot afford to miss a day of work to vote have no option but to use drop boxes or mail-in ballots. To eliminate drop boxes is akin to a return of the days of Jim Crow voting laws.
As Georgia approaches the 2022 election season, there is serious cause for concern over the State Senate’s support for the elimination of drop boxes. As noted by Aziz Huq and Tom Ginsburg, both American legal scholars, the U.S. Constitution “lacks mention of an independent election agency” . Without such a mechanism in place, subversion of the electoral process cannot be regulated and prevented.
As long as those in power are able to legally alter rules to keep themselves in power, American democracy is imperiled. Adopting legislation similar to the 27th Amendment, which only allows salary changes made by Congress to take effect only after the next election of the House of Representatives, to voting legislation would limit incumbents’ capacity to tilt the voting field in their favor. Only by separating legislatures, both state and federal, from the process of voting laws changes, can there be hope that the “blessings of liberty” will be secured. Levitsky, Steven, and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. New York: Broadway Books, 2019, 19.  Bermeo, Nancy. “On Democratic Backsliding.” Journal of Democracy 27, no. 1 (January 2016): 5-19. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/607612, 13.  Ginsburg, Tom, and Aziz Z. Huq. How to Save a Constitutional Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020, 161.