June 10, 2023

Absentee Balloting: Pennsylvania’s Drop Boxes for Ballots Will Remain in Place

An election worker tests voting tabulators for accuracy at the Wake County Board of Elections on the first day that the state started mailing out absentee ballots in Raleigh, N.C., September 4, 2020. (Jonathan Drake/Reuters)

In Pennsylvania, more than 20 counties are using drop boxes for voters returning absentee ballots.

The Trump’s campaign contends the drop boxes are as a potential risk for fraudulent votes or other tampering and went to court, seeking to bar counties from using drop boxes or mobile sites to collect mail-in ballots that are not “staffed, secured, and employed consistently within and across all 67 of Pennsylvania’s counties.” On Saturday, U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan — who was appointed by President Trump — rejected the Trump campaign’s arguments as unconvincing.

“The job of an unelected federal judge isn’t to suggest election improvements, especially when those improvements contradict the reasoned judgment of democratically elected officials,” Ranjan’s ruling stated. “The Court finds that the election regulations put in place by the general assembly and implemented by defendants do not significantly burden any right to vote. They are rational. They further important state interests. They align with the commonwealth’s elaborate election-security measures. They do not run afoul of the United States Constitution. They will not otherwise be second-guessed by this court.”

The Trump campaign intends to appeal the decision. Convincing a judge to issue an injunction to halt the use of the drop boxes and disrupt the current process will be a tall order; as of Friday, 261,832 Pennsylvanians have returned ballots — including by using drop boxes.

The courts may find the argument about the security of drop boxes unimpressive. But drop boxes may be somewhat superfluous, particularly if they’re placed next to U.S. mailboxes. All absentee ballots mailed to voters in Pennsylvania will come with a postage-paid return envelope. Seventeen states require local election officials to provide return postage for mailed ballots; New Jersey leaves the decision up to county clerks.

Even if you’re in a jurisdiction where your absentee ballot doesn’t come with return postage, your mailman will deliver your completed absentee ballot — neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

“Federal law requires appropriate postage to be affixed to all mail pieces entering into the U.S. Postal Service mail stream, and we expect our customers to comply with this requirement. To help voters, the Postal Service’s regulations require election officials to inform voters of the amount of first-class postage required to return their ballots.”

But then it adds: “If a ballot is nevertheless returned with short-paid or unpaid postage, it is the Postal Service’s policy not to delay the delivery of completed absentee or vote-by-mail ballots.”

The U.S. Postal Service asks that this policy not be abused and that you do pay the postage. After all, they could use the money.

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