The Ocean County Commissioners are the latest governmental body to urge Gov. Phil Murphy to end the presence of so-called “drop boxes” for collecting election ballots.
The boxes first appeared during the 2020 election out of concern for the spread of coronavirus during the pandemic, but with vaccines available and related mandates having eased, some officials have called for the practice to be set aside. Primarily, those opposed to drop boxes say they are concerned with election integrity issues, and the potential for “ballot harvesting,” in which a political operative submits the mail-in ballots of others after canvassing a geographic area advantageous to their party.
Generally, the calls to eliminate drop boxes have come from the Republican side of the aisle, while a bill sponsored by state Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) that would keep and further regulate drop boxes. Coughlin’s bill would also manipulate the location of drop boxes, with a requirement that 50 percent of required boxes be placed in districts with low voter turnout over the previous three years. The bill also places a second mandate on drop box locations, requiring 50 percent to be located in an area accessible by public transportation.
In Ocean County, a resolution opposing the continuation of drop box voting was sponsored by Commissioner Virginia Haines, a former GOP state assemblywoman, and was unanimously supported by the board. Haines’ Republican primary challenger, Ashley Lamb, also spoke in favor of the resolution, but lobbied for the county to proactively remove the drop boxes. Commisioner Jack Kelly said the county must follow state election laws, which require the presence of the boxes.
“These ballot drop boxes mandated by the governor in May of 2020 have created concerns amongst voters who are raising legitimate issues over election security,” said Kelly. “In response to the concerns raised by our residents, we are asking the state to eliminate the use of these ballot drop boxes.”
In Ocean County, questions have been raised about drop box security, in particular after security cameras focused on the box at the Brick Township municipal building failed. The row over the Brick’s balloting has since spilled over into an intra-party battle among warring factions of the county’s GOP.
“We want our residents to be confident that their vote counts and that the election results on all levels in Ocean County are accurate,” Kelly said. “This is paramount for voters here.”
There are 19 drop boxes in 17 locations in Ocean County, most of which are outside at branches of the Ocean County Library.
The resolution opined that the mandated use of ballot drop boxes “have created unnecessary costs in the election process and requires counties to expend unnecessary funds and resources to comply with, among other cumbersome regulations, the daily retrieval of ballots, frequency of ballot retrieval, staffing requirements, surveillance and security costs, data storage and public access to live security feeds.”
Haines said the directives governing drop boxes, created by Murphy via executive order, have never been clear.
“It’s difficult to respond properly to our constituents when the rules have been confusing from the start,” she said.