Update: Following the discovery of unofficial ballot boxes in Orange County, the State Attorney General Xavier Becerra ordered the California Republican Party to remove them from places around the state such as churches, gun stores and other public spaces. Our latest coverage is here.
Reports of unofficial ballot drop boxes placed around Orange County, some by the California Republican Party, surfaced over the weekend, leading to an investigation by local election officials and a cease-and-desist letter from the state’s attorney general.
The unauthorized ballot drop boxes, some of which were labeled as “official” or “secure,” were identified in some Orange County cities on Sunday and are currently under investigation, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office said.
“The right to vote is one of our most sacred rights, and I will not tolerate anyone interfering with someone’s ability to have their voice heard in our democratic process,” O.C. District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in a statement.
Neal Kelley, Orange County’s registrar of voters, said Monday that unauthorized ballot drop boxes are against state law. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla had issued a memo Sunday telling county registrars that such boxes are illegal, the Associated Press reported.
A spokesman for the state Republican Party, meanwhile, admitted the California GOP owns the boxes and doesn’t plan to remove them, according to AP. The spokesman wouldn’t say how many boxes there are or where they are located.
“Democrats only seem to object to ballot harvesting when someone else does it,” state GOP spokesman Hector Barajas said.
“Ballot harvesting” is allowed in some situations in California, and a spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party said Democrats have delivered ballots for voters who have requested help in past, AP reported.
Orange County’s registrar stated that “third party ballot collections are allowed” if a voter designates someone to return a ballot on their behalf, but unofficial drop boxes are prohibited.
The Orange County Democratic Party, citing a report by the Orange County Register, said in one case a Newport Beach-based California Republican Party staff member was promoting filing cabinets as official O.C. ballot drop boxes on social media — in posts that have since been removed.
“Voters need trust in our election system, and this latest attempt by senior Republicans only erodes that trust,” Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County, said in a statement Monday. “These fake drop boxes should not be tolerated. I’ve called on local and state leaders to set an example and put a stop to this. We must send a clear message that we will not tolerate voter suppression.”
Barajas, of the state GOP, told the Los Angeles Times that unofficial ballot drop boxes are allowed under a 2016 state law that lets any voter designate another person to collect a completed ballot and return it to election officials, a polling place or vote center, or a secure vote-by-mail drop box.
“In California, where you can have convicted felons and individuals with a criminal history go door to door and collect ballots from voters, Democrats are now upset because organizations, individuals and groups are offering an opportunity for their friends, family, and patrons to drop off their ballot with someone they know and trust,” Barajas said in a statement.
At a joint news conference on Monday afternoon with Padilla, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the California Republican Party, Fresno County Republican Party, Los Angeles County Republican Party, and Republican Party of Orange County “must cease and desist the coordination, use, or false or misleading promotion of unauthorized and non-official vote by mail drop boxes,” adding that the unofficial ballot drop boxes must be removed by Thursday.
“If they refuse to comply, we’ll of course entertain all of our legal options,” Padilla added.
Reports of unofficial boxes have popped up in Castaic, in Los Angeles County, and in Fresno County, AP reported.
In Orange County, a list of official ballot boxes can be found at ocvote.com.
Real county drop boxes are clearly marked, bear the official Orange County elections logo and Orange County seal and were designed to meet state standards for security, Kelley said.
The O.C. Registrar’s Twitter account posted a photo of an official Orange County ballot drop box to help voters identify a phony box.
Orange County officials encouraged voters to continue to report any ballot boxes that appear to be fake.
Residents in Orange County can call the Registrar’s Office at 714-567-7600 with any voting concerns. Anyone who suspects election fraud is also encouraged to call the Orange County District Attorney’s Office election fraud hotline at 714-501-4593. Residents can also report suspected election fraud by emailing email@example.com.
The O.C. Registrar’s Office also released the following tips for voters:
- Make a plan to vote. You can return your official ballot by bringing it to any official drop box, Vote Center voting location (beginning Oct. 30, 2020), or by using the prepaid postage return envelope.
- Voters can also choose someone to return their ballot. Only choose someone you trust to return your ballot. You and the other person must sign the back of the return envelope. Never give your ballot to someone else unless you have completed, signed, and sealed the return envelope.
- Sign up for ballot tracking. You can sign-up at ocvote.com/track to get automatic notifications by text message (SMS), or email about the status of your official ballot. You’ll be notified once our office has received your ballot, once it has been counted, and if there are any issues with the ballot.
- Receive trusted official election information from our “Trusted Election Official Information” web pages.