Drop boxes provide safe alternative to in-person voting


Photo by Jeremy Fredricks

An offical drop box from the state of Maryland for the 2020 election sits outside the main enterance at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md. on Oct. 18.

By Jeremy Fredricks, Copy Editor

When COVID-19 struck during an election year, the question raised was how would people vote safely. Drop boxes became the answer. These boxes have turned community centers and local high schools, including WCHS, into hubs of 2020 election activity.

Unlike the primary elections, where every eligible voter in the state of Maryland received a ballot, voters had to specifically request a ballot for the general election. When deciding how to return their ballots, voters had the option of drop boxes or using the mail. 

“It wasn’t necessarily our decision, it was decided by the Maryland State Board of Elections,” Gilberto Zelaya, Ph.D. and Vice President of the Montgomery County Board of Elections said. “We needed a mechanism in which voters could expedite their mail and bounce back to the corresponding local boards of elections.”

Gov. Larry Hogan, R-Md., signed a proclamation relating to the election on Aug. 10. It closed most polling locations, increased mail-in voting and created voting centers at public high schools throughout the state.

“Montgomery County requested 50 ballot drop boxes. We looked at density, traffic patterns and census to make the best recommendations to our board of directors to install additional boxes,” Zelaya said. “Under Governor Hogan’s Proclamation, he also noted that vote centers will be consolidated to early voting locations and Maryland public high schools.”

Another drop box is located at the Potomac Community Center, which many WCHS parents and students are using as their voting location. 

“I decided to vote by mail because voting by mail is the safest way to vote this year,” senior Emily Tong said. “The location that I dropped off my ballot at, was convenient for me because it was a community center near my neighborhood. The box outside the PCC is large and easy to find. It was simple and quick to drop off my ballot.”

Senior Maanika Gupta also voted at the Potomac Community Center and is no stranger to elections. In prior elections, she has served as a volunteer on election day — a role that requires her to answer voters’ questions and direct them to the proper location. This year she was unable to do that due to safety concerns.

“I decided to vote by mail because it seemed like the safe alternative with COVID,” Gupta said. “COVID-19 not only impacted my ability to fill out my ballot at a booth but I am not allowed to volunteer at the polls like I usually do.”

Some residents are worried about the safety of their ballot. A poll from National Public Radio, PBS Newshour and Marist, taken in early October, shows that 69% of Americans think there will be attempts to prevent citizens from voting. However, the board is working to ensure that every ballot will be counted and that there is nothing stopping voters from doing their civic duty.

“All valid drop boxes are under 24 hour surveillance,” Zelaya said. “We work closely with the Montgomery County Department of Homeland Security, the county security and the county police.” 

Once the ballot is collected, the board secures it — they check it in, incorporate it into the canvas and an employee scans it in. 

“Our staff will first make sure the ballot is signed,” Zelaya said. “Once we receive this ballot at our office, whether through the post office or a valid drop box, we will then remove the privacy flap to expose the signature to make sure there’s a signature.”

Voting by mail is nothing new, having been around since the War of 1812, according to Zelaya. It has been used in prior elections by a smaller proportion of citizens in Montgomery County. Some western states, like Colorado and Oregon, send ballots to all their voters.

“Keep in mind, in the franchise democracy, there are multiple access points,” Zelaya said. “It’s up to the voter to make a vote plan and to decide how they wish to vote. So part of democracy, not only is our job as administrators to protect your vote, but it’s also the voters’ responsibility to do your part.”