Issue Brief: Assessing Key Trends in Drop Box Monitoring Activity

Drop Box Cover

Executive Summary

Drop boxes are a secure and accessible means for voters to drop off ballots instead of voting in person or by mail. Yet since 2020, political contention over drop boxes has been on the rise due to a combination of factors, including increased use of the drop box voting process amid the pandemic, false fraud narratives around the presidential election, and varied jurisdictional frameworks. Concerns over drop boxes spiked during the 2022 midterm elections, with candidates and media outlets flagging the threat of “armed vigilantes staking out drop box locations.”

But did online discourse transfer to offline activity? And, if so, how prevalent was this activity? Using BDI’s new Drop Box Monitoring Dataset, this Issue Brief provides an assessment of in-person, offline mobilization at drop box sites through analysis of known, reported activity nationwide, alongside case studies of two states that saw a high concentration of incidents in 2022: Arizona and Pennsylvania. It finds that only limited offline monitoring activity was reported at drop box locations during the 2022 midterms, as well as during off-year elections in 2023. The analysis exposes a gap between online rhetoric and offline action and provides new insights into approaches that can help prepare communities for contentious activity around the 2024 election.

Key Findings

  • BDI’s Drop Box Monitoring Dataset recorded 44 physical monitoring incidents in 2022, with the majority occurring in Arizona (25), followed by Pennsylvania (6), Washington (6), and Michigan (5)
  • In total, BDI identified monitoring activity at fewer than 20 drop box locations
    • Of the estimated 13,000 drop box locations active nationwide in 2022, monitoring incidents were reported at approximately 0.1%
  • The vast majority of incidents did not involve firearms or violence
    • One confirmed case involving firearms was reported and one case of physical fighting was reported, both in Arizona

Access the Issue Brief