CA GOP’s Unsanctioned Ballot Drop Boxes May Violate Law, Secretary Of State Says

People vote at a voting station for the special election between Democratic state assemblywoman Christy Smith and Republican businessman and ex-Navy pilot Mike Garcia to replace former Democratic Congresswoman Katie ... People vote at a voting station for the special election between Democratic state assemblywoman Christy Smith and Republican businessman and ex-Navy pilot Mike Garcia to replace former Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill in the state's 25th Congressional District, in Santa Clarita, California on May 12, 2020. - President Trump claimed Democrats in California of attempting to 'steal another election' and has accused Governor Gavin Newsom of adding a last-minute polling place in a Democrat-heavy area in addition to the mail-in only option that was considered due to the Corona virus. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
October 12, 2020 10:23 a.m.

The California Republican Party has advertised unsanctioned ballot drop boxes, prompting a warning from the state’s top election official that such boxes violate the law. 

The drop boxes, some of which claim to be “official,” weren’t actually installed by the state.

Rather, they’re the product of the state’s Republican Party, according to several reports. In a since-removed list of “Ballot Collection Box Locations” on its website, the Fresno County Republican Party listed the location of several such unsanctioned drop boxes, including several gun shops, a gas station and the county party’s headquarters. 

It’s perhaps a bit ironic that the GOP, currently trying to restrict drop box use in multiple states, has created its own boxes in California.

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The state party has defended the installations, comparing them to volunteers that collect ballots face-to-face to be submitted later — a practice sometimes disparagingly called “ballot harvesting.” 

A spokesperson for the state party, Hector Barajas, acknowledged to the Associated Press that the party owns the boxes.

“Democrats only seem to object to ballot harvesting when someone else does it,” Barajas said.

But the use of unsanctioned drop boxes doesn’t actually involve voters handing their ballots over to another person for them to submit to elections officials, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) pointed out in a memo dated Sunday

“[T]he use of unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes does not comply with state law governing ballot collection activities,” he wrote, noting that official drop boxes are required to meet a number of security requirements and are listed on state websites. 

“The use of non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes would be misleading to the public and could result in confusion and a perceived lack of transparency on behalf of county elections officials,” Padilla added.

The Washington Post reported on the drop boxes Monday morning, and the Orange County Register and KCAL reported on them prior to the Post.

“Operating unofficial ballot drop boxes — especially those misrepresented as official drop boxes — is not just misleading to voters, it’s a violation of state law,” Padilla said in a statement to the Post. “My office is coordinating with local officials to address the multiple reports of unauthorized ballot drop boxes. Californians should only use official ballot drop boxes that have been deployed and secured by their county elections office.”

“It would be like me installing a mailbox out on the corner – the post office is the one that installs mailboxes,” Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley told the Register of the drop boxes. 

Padilla’s memo also noted possible criminal penalties for setting up unofficial drop boxes. 

In his memo, he cited a section in the state’s election code, 18575, that sets out potential felony charges for anyone who, “Not being an election officer, performs or discharges any of the duties of an election officer in regard to the handling, counting, or canvassing of any ballots.”

This post has been updated.

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