“For now, we will continue our ballot collection program,” California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas said.
Due to the coronavirus and concerns about the health security of the polling stations, California for the first time sent ballots for the November 3 election to all active registered voters – more than 21 million people. The ballots come with prepaid envelopes that voters can return by mail, free of charge.
State law also allows county election officials to set up drop boxes throughout the county where people can cast their ballots in person. Secure boxes can sometimes weigh over 600 pounds and are frequently monitored by local election officials.
Republicans have set up their drop boxes at churches, gas stations and gun stores in at least three counties in California. Some are identified as “secure ballot deposit location” while others say “GOP approved and purchased”.
The party declined to say precisely how many boxes were distributed and where they were all placed.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said state law only allowed county election officials to set up official ballot boxes, with rules on how often ballots are collected. He said that these unofficial drop boxes do not have these protections, which makes them vulnerable to tampering.
Padilla asked his chief legal advisor to send a letter to Republicans on Monday ordering them to remove those boxes on Thursday. He also ordered them to provide the state with the names, addresses and birthdays of all voters who have ever cast ballots.
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, also a Democrat, went further, threatening to prosecute “anyone who knowingly falsifies or misuses a vote”.
“We hope the message gets out loud to anyone who tries to inappropriately solicit, obtain and manage a citizen’s vote and be prosecuted,” Becerra said. “I try to be careful with how I say this, but the reports we hear are disturbing. ”
Padilla declined to speculate on why Republicans would collect votes through unofficial drop boxes.
“Our interest is to protect the integrity of this election,” he said.
Barajas said the party drop boxes only provided voters with “another opportunity” to vote.
In a press release, the California Republican Party said state law does not specifically prohibit them from collecting the ballots in a ballot box. They say the law only prevents tampering or tampering with ballots and that the people who collect the ballots cannot be paid to do so.
“It seems Republicans have every right to collect the ballots this way. It’s just Democrats don’t like it, ”Republican Senator Melissa Melendez said on her official Twitter account.
Controversy resurfaced over the weekend after state election officials received reports of boxes in Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange counties, all areas with highly competitive US home races. Democrats have lambasted the use of the unofficial ballot boxes and say they fear Republicans may use them to collect and reject ballots.
Ventura County officials also said on Monday that they had received reports from groups promoting unofficial ballot boxes.
In California, state law states that voters who cannot return their ballots themselves can have someone else do it for them. Previously, people who returned a ballot for someone else were also required to sign it and list their relationship to the voter. But a separate law passed in 2018 eliminated that requirement.
In Orange County, home to 3 million people between Los Angeles and San Diego, a state GOP field director posed for a photo with one of the boxes. The image posted on social media showed him wearing a face covering the Congressional campaign of Michelle Steel, a Republican county supervisor.
Steel is contesting U.S. Democratic Representative Harley Rouda for her seat representing a coastal district. Rouda overturned the seat two years ago of longtime Republican Dana Rohrabacher.
Orange County Registrar of Electors Neal Kelley said official drop boxes are clearly recognizable and bear the official county elections logo. He said it was not clear how many voters used unofficial boxes, but after receiving reports about them, he informed the state and district attorney’s office, which is investigating.
Rachel Potucek, spokeswoman for the Orange County Democratic Party, said she did not know what Republicans were planning to do with the ballots they had collected and feared she could target Democratic areas with ballot boxes to delete votes.
There have also been reports of GOP drop boxes at a church in the Los Angeles County community of Castaic and at various locations in Fresno County in the farm-rich Central Valley of California.
Republicans in Fresno County have said they will withdraw the ballot boxes and the ballots will be turned over to county election officials, which has always been the plan, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Taxin reported in Orange County, California