Handle With Care: Anything A Shipping Company Can Do, Election Officials Should Do

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Even in the age of COVID, election integrity isn’t especially difficult or complicated. The measures necessary to ensure that ballot drop boxes are secure and uncompromised are implemented every single day by countless companies to protect far less sensitive products.

Ballot drop boxes were utilized in states all over the country, including Michigan, as a way of accommodating the massive surge in the use of mail-in ballots. These single-purpose receptacles offered 24-hour access to the general public, and contained some of the most sensitive documents to any democracy — the ballots recording the votes cast by American citizens.

Common sense dictates that every single drop box — any of which could contain up to tens of thousands of ballots — must be both easily accessible and unquestionably secure. Documents made available by court order show that election officials in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were well aware of the steps that would need to be taken in order to preserve the chain of custody of every ballot from the voter’s hand to the counting room floor.

In August, Philadelphia submitted a request for $10 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), an organization founded and run by left-wing activists that received $350 million from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to distribute to election officials all over the country. In a section of the grant request titled “Secure Dropboxes,” Philadelphia noted that “each drop box needs 24-hour video surveillance,” as well as “courier/pick-up teams … to pick up deposited ballots from 24-hour drop boxes and to monitor drop-off boxes within public facilities.”

“Chain of custody protocols and sufficient staffing to manage higher volume prior to Election Day will be critical,” the request notes, detailing significantly greater expenditures for security and collection than for the drop boxes themselves. The city sought just over $400,000 for “security needs” and ballot collection teams, compared to $150,000 for the drop boxes themselves.

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Security requirements and protocols would have been substantially the same for drop boxes elsewhere. When security concerns were raised in Michigan, for instance, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson insisted that the boxes would be locked and secured, with video monitoring.

That’s a good thing. Of course, video monitoring is only useful if the video footage can subsequently be reviewed to prove that none of the drop boxes were ever compromised. Strangely, though, Benson fought back when Republicans sued for access to the footage, calling the request a partisan stunt.

It’s a similar story when it comes to the “courier/pick-up teams” referred to in the Philadelphia grant request. As Benson made very clear, the drop boxes were locked. Therefore, somebody (really, several somebodies) must have had the keys to open them up when the time came to transport the ballots to counting centers to be tallied. Election officials should have maintained logs detailing who had access to which keys and when, and when those keys were used to access drop boxes.

Likewise, there should be logs tracking how chain of custody was maintained from the time the boxes were emptied to the time the ballots arrived at the counting centers. These logs should include finite details, including the names of the truck drivers, the license plates of the trucks, and the exact times that they departed and arrived.

Finally, there should be surveillance footage of the ballots arriving at the counting centers, which would further verify that they were delivered by the same people and vehicles that picked them up.

Shipping and logistics companies, the United States Postal Service, and myriad other businesses keep meticulous and extensive logs cataloguing exactly this sort of information — and they do it for much more mundane products. It’s not too much to expect the same from election officials, who have a legal obligation and a public duty to safeguard the integrity of the vote.

Where are the logs? Who has them, and when will they be available for public review? Who had keys to the ballot drop boxes, and when were those keys used to remove ballots? Who transported the ballots? Did they drive straight from the drop boxes to the counting centers, or did they make detours along the way?

These are not complicated questions. The answers should be readily available and simple to produce. Doing so would be of immeasurable value to the integrity of our election process, and would offer invaluable reassurance to voters concerned that mail-in ballots and ballot drop boxes created vulnerabilities in this closely-contested election. Election officials in Michigan and elsewhere in the country should produce the tracking logs and video surveillance footage right away.

Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer is a retired senior intelligence operations officer and President of the London Center for Policy Research.