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Locks on post office drop boxes meant to deter theft

August 18, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Locked mailboxes in front of a post office in Burbank, California, are proof that massive voter suppression is underway ahead of the election. 

 AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The boxes were locked to prevent theft, postal officials said. 

THE FACTS: Social media users are sharing photos of locked mailboxes in front of the Downtown Station post office in Burbank, California, suggesting the move is to suppress voting in upcoming elections.

“Spread this far and wide! This is massive voter suppression happening in front of us! The Post Office in Burbank, CA. All outdoor boxes locked shut. The entrance to the Post Office is locked and you can’t mail a letter?” the post on Facebook with the photo of the locked boxes said. 

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The USPS told The Associated Press that anti-theft locking devices were placed on the boxes in front of the Burbank Post Office to deter mail theft. The are locked during the hours the post office is closed.

“The use of Collection Box Anti-theft locking devices, such as at the Burbank Post Office, have been in place since approximately 2016 and this device was developed as a mail theft deterrent,” said Evelina Ramirez, a USPS spokeswoman.

The locks are placed on the boxes after the last collection of the day and removed at the start of then next business day. The locks do not prevent people from depositing mail. Ramirez said openings on the back of the box allow for mail to be deposited into the collection box, while the locks on the front are designed to keep mail from being removed . 

A video online of the locked boxes circulating on Twitter shows the letter opening on the back of the locked USPS collection boxes. 

The posts online come as concerns grow that the Trump administration is working to undermine the postal service before the election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called Congress back into session to address concerns over the postal service.

Social media users are also sharing photos of postal workers removing mail collection boxes to say they are part of a broader plan to suppress votes. In response to photos of USPS collection boxes being removed in Oregon, postal service spokesperson Ernie Swanson told the AP that the boxes were being removed due to declining mail volume as well as duplicate boxes being removed from areas with more than one. 

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536