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The Use Of Ballot Drop Boxes May Change Due To Republican Pushback

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In California's governor recall election this month, every registered voter in the state was mailed a ballot. But more than 2 million of those voters did not mail them back. Instead, they used ballot drop boxes. Drop boxes grew in popularity during the pandemic, but they have also become a lightning rod issue in the partisan battles over voting. NPR's Miles Parks has more.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Larry Olson is in a low-tech industry. He's the vice president of Laserfab, Inc., a company that makes ballot drop boxes, and he can't help but laugh whenever he's at a voting conference.

LARRY OLSON: All the other vendors are selling these high-tech, you know, vote on your iPad kind of deals. And here I am in the corner, you know, trying to just sell this big metal box.

PARKS: In the past year, though, the big metal box business has been booming. Of the 800 or so boxes his company has in the field right now, Olson says about a third of those came from orders made last year, when more voters used drop boxes than ever before. Lori Augino, elections director for the state of Washington, says some voters didn't want to come into contact with other people. Others didn't want to leave it up to the post office to get their vote in on time.

LORI AUGINO: We made a push as well as the Post Office made a push that it was important for voters who were returning in those days leading up to Election Day to use a ballot drop box.

PARKS: In 2020 73% of all voters in Washington used a ballot drop box. The boxes were also used in many places that hadn't really used them in elections before, and now some of those places are seeing a backlash. Republicans in a number of states this year have passed bills that clamp down on the voting process, and drop boxes have been targeted in at least four of those laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Here's Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, at a news conference earlier this year.

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RON DESANTIS: We need to address these drop boxes. I think they're a big problem. And I think that you can take it, put it in the mail or take it to the elections office. Why do you need to have these things out there?

PARKS: In Florida, Republicans initially wanted to ban all ballot drop boxes across the entire state, but the final version of the bill that passed just severely restricted their use. Bills like that are evidence that false attacks on the security of drop boxes have worked, according to Tammy Patrick. She's an adviser at the Democracy Fund and a former election official.

TAMMY PATRICK: There are certain facets of election administration that have become weaponized and have been twisted in a partisan way. Drop boxes fall into that category.

PARKS: So some voters may realize that the next time they go to vote, they can't use an absentee ballot or a drop box the way they did before. Patrick says if that frustrates them, they need to let their legislators hear about it.

Miles Parks, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE ROOTS SONG, "LONG TIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.