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Republicans eager to align with Trump zero in on restricting drop boxes for mail-in ballots

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Former President Donald Trump's disdain for drop boxes is fueling a multifaceted effort to restrict their use in a number of states, and giving some GOP candidates a new way to court favor as primaries approach.

Earlier this week, Trump took aim at draft legislation in Wisconsin that would have allowed for some drop boxes monitored with continuous video surveillance to be used as a method for returning mail-in ballots, scrambling Republican support for the measure even before it was introduced.

“These fools are playing right into the Democrats’ hand. Drop boxes are only good for Democrats and cheating, not good for Republicans,” he said in a statement Monday, released shortly after a draft version of the bill was posted on The Gateway Pundit, a conservative site.

Wisconsin allows both attended and unattended drop boxes to be used and has for years, though election officials expanded their use during the pandemic — and their use is currently the subject of a court fight. The boxes are required to be locked and affixed to their location, according to guidance from the Wisconsin Elections Commission published in 2020.

There is no proof that drop boxes — mailbox-like boxes that offer voters a convenient way to cast their ballots — enable fraud and there are safeguards to ensure that mail-in ballots are cast by the eligible voter. Each state has its own rules, but mail-in ballots are typically verified by election officials who analyze the signature on them against the registered voter's on-file signature.

Image: Wisconsin election drop box (Kamil Krzaczynski / AFP via Getty Images file)
Image: Wisconsin election drop box (Kamil Krzaczynski / AFP via Getty Images file)

The fallout from Trump's brief statement is the latest example of his continued focus on election practices that he blames for his 2020 defeat. Since leaving office, he has repeated his false claims of a stolen election — repeatedly suggesting without evidence that drop boxes were a source of fraud — while endorsing candidates who seek to impose voting restrictions. During his re-election bid, he promoted baseless claims that the pandemic-inspired expansion of mail-in voting in a number of states would lead to fraud. Many Republicans appeared to have taken his claims to heart, voting in person in greater numbers than Democrats, who embraced mail-in voting.

In 2021, Republican legislators enacted limits on drop boxes in Georgia, Florida, Indiana and Iowa. This year, as Republicans court Trump's voters without the former president on the ballot, drop boxes are again a popular target for the right, and a campaign issue for some candidates, with at least four states considering limits on or abolishing drop boxes.

Kevin Nicholson, a Republican who announced his bid for Wisconsin governor Thursday, boosted Trump's statement in a Monday tweet criticizing Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican, for reportedly backing the bill. Vos said this week he does not support the "expansion" of drop boxes, but declined to clarify whether he supported any use of drop boxes.

"And, remind me, who is [Vos] supporting in the Wisconsin gubernatorial election?" Nicholson wrote.

Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, a Republican, who is running for governor with Vos' endorsement, promptly fired back with a tweet of her own an hour later.

"I agree with President Trump and urge Republicans to oppose any legislation that legalizes ballot drop boxes. Unattended drop boxes threaten the integrity of our elections which is why I sued the Wisconsin Elections Commission to ban their use," she wrote.

GOP state Sen. Kathleen Bernier, who authored the bill, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that no Republican Assembly members had opposed the drop box provision until Monday. She did not respond to requests to speak with NBC News.

A Georgia state senator seeking the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor against a Trump-backed candidate, Butch Miller, recently proposed a bill in the state Senate to outlaw the use of drop boxes. And he wants voters to take notice.

Miller tweeted this week that he’s “the candidate for Lieutenant Governor fighting to eliminate drop boxes.”

Trump ally Vernon Jones, a frequent repeater of election falsehoods who is challenging GOP Gov. Brian Kemp, recently filed a formal complaint requesting an investigation into a drop box in Georgia. Trump has already endorsed former U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who recently filed a lawsuit contesting the 2020 election's results, in the governor's race.

“The only reason they would seek to institute nationwide ballot harvesting and unsecured ballot drop boxes is if they wanted to flood the system with illegal and ineligible votes,” Trump said at a recent rally in Arizona.

Two state House bills already under consideration in Arizona this year call for banning the use of unmonitored drop boxes, while a state Senate bill, introduced by state Sen. Wendy Rogers, would ban all drop boxes. Rogers, a Trump ally who has called for election officials who oversaw the 2020 vote to be jailed, raised nearly $2.5 million last year, according to her campaign.

Virginia Republicans have proposed legislation prohibiting the use of drop-off ballot locations entirely, too.

During the 2020 election, Trump and his campaign filed at least four lawsuits over drop boxes in New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those efforts failed.

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