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Lebanon County removes its only ballot drop box

  • Ben Wasserstein/WITF
A photo of Lebanon County's ballot drop box from 2023

 Courtesy of Jo Ellen Litz

A photo of Lebanon County's ballot drop box from 2023

In last year’s election, approximately 3,000 Lebanon County voters put their ballots in a drop box outside the courthouse.

But on Jan. 18, the board of commissioners voted to remove it.

Republican Commissioner Robert Phillips said the ballot box raised questions about security.

“Someone can walk up to it and put more than one ballot in,” Phillips said. “And in Pennsylvania you’re allowed one ballot per voter, and there is no way for us to properly monitor that.”

Dropping off multiple ballots at once is known as ballot harvesting. Under state law, voters can drop off someone else’s ballot only if that person is disabled and they have a signed form from that person.

Prior to the 2020 election, President Donald Trump said ballot harvesting could be used to rig the election.

But situations involving fraud with mail-in or absentee ballots are rare in Pennsylvania.

Conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation found only five cases of voter fraud relating to the use of absentee ballots since 2020.

The ballot box in Lebanon was locked after hours and had a security camera positioned on top.

The only person to vote against removing it was Democrat Jo Ellen Litz.

She said the drop box saves time for elections workers who must now accept early ballots individually at their office. She also said it helps sick people avoid coming into the office and is easier for people with disabilities to use.

“Why did you tamper with something that is working?,” Litz said.  “Why would you increase the work for our staff who already are overworked? Why would you increase their risk of infectious disease? You know, why would you put people who are handicapped through a marathon to drop off their ballot. The list goes on. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Litz speculated the lines to drop off ballots could be 45 minutes to several hours long.

Lebanon County Elections Director Sean Drasher backed up her claim, saying people would be waiting 45 minutes in a line that would go past his office.

The box is more secure than submitting a ballot through the postal service, Litz said.

Phillips said adding a guard to watch the box and ensure nobody drops off multiple ballots would lead to people saying they are suppressing the vote. He also noted concerns over how the guard would be paid.

Neighboring Berks County has posted sheriff’s deputies at their drop boxes. While there was concern at first over voter intimidation, in practice voters were able to cast their ballot without incident.

The Republican National Committee has hired poll watchers for years and plans to hire thousands of poll watchers in anticipation of the 2024 election.

Litz noted that both Republicans and Democrats use the drop box. The RNC also launched the “Bank Your Vote” campaign during the summer to encourage Republicans to use mail-in ballots.

Phillips said if the legislature mandates counties have a drop box, he would comply.

Several counties, such as Lancaster, have also removed their drop boxes. The decision in Lancaster led to accusations of voter suppression.

Matt Heckel, press secretary for the Department of State, noted the decision to have a drop box is for counties to make, but the department encourages them to provide secure and accessible return options – such as drop boxes.

Ballots for the 2024 primary are due on April 23 at 8 p.m.

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