Ongoing Improvements Are Much Safer Than Secure Boxes for Ballots

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There have been suggestions to have “secure boxes” around the county for people to deposit ballots without going to either the local post office or to an in-person voting site. There are difficulties with this idea.

Any sort of unsupervised casting of ballots lends itself to ballot harvesting and other conditions that put the chain of custody of a ballot into doubt. Moreover, libraries in many areas have had to shut their overnight slots for receiving books and other media due to various kinds of malicious mischief. It does not take too much imagination to see such ballot boxes being the target for similar misbehavior. 

We also have to remember that the “Australian ballot” was adopted in New York State so that there is a private space for a person to complete a ballot – out of the sight of an employer, a religious figure, a spouse, a union official or an officious activist who might want to intimidate someone into a vote not truly of their own choice.

Finally, we should not put in place untried procedures at the last minute before a presidential election – but there are useful adaptations that can be made for current conditions.

Having worked for years as an election inspector, I am impressed with the system of bipartisan panels at in-person voting sites in New York State. We come together in a spirit of what one might call “coopetition.” The inspector panels work well together in part because we know no bad things will happen with people in the room representing different political sides. 

I am also happy that starting with this year’s primary, in place of the unwieldy poll roster books, electronic tablets are now being used that contain the county’s voter information (including each voter’s original signature) and is now being used to receive each voter’s signature. Digitizing the poll roster in this way makes possible an adaptation based on the current election law provision for poll sites at congregate care facilities like nursing homes.

This year, a bipartisan pair of inspectors should be sent to the shut-in voters in a given election district (of about 1,000 voters) with the secure pouch that is currently used to receive absentee ballots at in-person voting sites. The inspectors would have with them the poll roster iPad that the voter would sign with a sanitized stylus. The voter puts the completed ballot into the pouch – so no one other than the voter handles it. The inspectors then would bring the pouch with the ballots to the bipartisan county Board of Elections to maintain the chain of custody.

Ed Unneland


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