General Assembly Approves Drop Box Plan For Ballots

Marcia McCoy drops her ballot into a box outside the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

By Brian Carlton

September 5, 2020

Hours after it passed, Gov. Northam signed the bill into law. It gives Virginia residents four different ways to turn in an absentee ballot this fall.

RICHMOND-You’ll be able to drop off a ballot in multiple ways this fall. Gov. Ralph Northam signed SB5120 into law hours after the Virginia House approved it Friday by a final 55-43 vote. This followed a 21-16 vote last week to approve it in the Senate. The same arguments that followed over the last two weeks popped up again before the vote, met with the same answers. Opponents questioned the bill’s cost and security issues, while supporters said it was necessary due to the pandemic. 

Under the bill, people now have four ways to send in an absentee ballot. They can mail it, deliver it in person, send it by a commercial delivery service or take it to a drop-off location. Regardless of what option they choose, voters won’t have to pay. The bill gives $2 million to the Virginia Department of Elections, covering prepaid postage to return all absentee ballots. And while the drop-off concept gathered the most attention, other parts of the bill are just as important. For example, if a registrar, the person who handles elections for a city or county, finds the absentee ballot wasn’t completely filled out, this bill requires them to get in touch with the voter within three days to get that corrected. 

Costs For The Bill Will Vary 

There were however some issues passed down to the cities and counties. While the General Assembly set aside money to pay for postage, they didn’t include anything to cover the cost of buying and setting up drop-off boxes. 

“This is a huge cost to localities,” said Del. Robert Bloxom (R-Mappsville). “The patron of the bill said it would [also] have some type of surveillance [system]. They’re not cheap.” 

Section B of the new law says each local registrar will establish a drop-off location at their office. They’re also required to put a drop-off box at each polling place on Election Day. If the registrar feels more drop-off sites are needed, they will be allowed to set up as many as necessary. But again, all of these drop-off boxes will be purchased and paid for by the local city or county. No state money was allocated for it. 

As for the other concerns about drop-off boxes, we covered most of them earlier this week, while also pointing out some often reported fears about mail-in voting  just aren’t true.But beyond those concerns, it’ll now be up to local registrars to purchase the boxes and get them set up over the next few weeks. 

Under the new law, all mailed absentee ballots have to list drop-off locations in the surrounding area. For many, that’ll mean the local board of elections office and all nearby polling places.

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