If you have an important letter or check you want to mail, you know the local post office is the safest place to go. And if you have an absentee ballot, you know you can mail it or drop it off at your county clerk’s office or an early voting site.
Rules proposed by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office would mandate a certain number of absentee ballot drop boxes in every county and allow them just about anywhere – as long as they’re locked at all times and bolted to the ground. The minimum number of boxes would be mandated by a voter population formula set by the Secretary of State’s Office.
The proposed rules don’t require in-person monitoring, instead relying on 24/7 video surveillance to record any mischief. State Bureau of Elections Director Kari Fresquez says a mix of federal and state money would pay for the equipment to ensure 24/7 surveillance.
While an expansion of secured drop boxes for absentee ballots makes it more convenient for busy voters, the drop boxes should not be allowed on just any corner.
And they shouldn’t be unattended, where they can be vandalized or carted away – as happens to many mail boxes regardless of how well they are bolted down.
Absentee voting has surged during the coronavirus pandemic. And efforts that make voting more accessible to the citizenry are worth pursuing.
Of the 928,000 voters who cast ballots in the November 2020 general election, roughly 35% cast absentee ballots. Absentee voting rates were even higher during the June 2020 primaries, not long after COVID-19 appeared in New Mexico. A record 264,793 New Mexicans used the method to cast their ballots in the 2020 primaries, about 63.4% of all votes cast.
The Secretary of State’s idea to increase the number of drop boxes to ensure they are present in all counties makes sense. But do we need ballot drop boxes scattered in parking garages and parking lots? Why not centralized sites where voters will take advantage of the convenience and deliver taxpayers more bang for the buck? Along those lines, early voting and Election Day polling sites seem like more logical, secure and cost-effective locations.
It also seems logical that the boxes would be brought in at night, when most vandalism occurs. The 24/7 video monitoring will not prevent vandals; how does watching video of vandalism after the fact help protect your vote?
A 2019 state law first allowed the use of ballot drop boxes outside traditional polling places for elections in 2020. The ballot containers were required to be continually supervised by a person, and the law didn’t make them mandatory in every county.
Expanding options for busy voters is a good idea. But it’s an idea that should be approached with caution.
Placing drop boxes where voters are likely to expect them – and use them – such as polling locations has proven successful. And keeping them secure overnight so ballots can’t easily be stolen, damaged or destroyed will make us all sleep better at night.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.