California’s secretary of state and attorney general are demanding the state Republican Party remove unauthorized ballot drop boxes that appeared in at least three counties over the weekend.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla received reports of unofficial ballot boxes at churches, gas stations and gun stores in Orange, Fresno and Los Angeles counties. In a cease and desist order, Padilla identified more than a dozen potential unauthorized boxes, though the total number remains unclear.
The state’s top election official says authorized ballot drop boxes can only be established by county or city officials and must meet certain security protections to prevent tampering. There are also protocols to oversee the ballot’s ‘chain of command,’ which tracks the ballot’s movements.
The unofficial ballot boxes could be a felony violation of the state Elections Code, according to the Secretary of State, carrying a two-to-four-year prison sentence.
“In California, we want to protect the sanctity of your vote,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said during a press conference Monday. “You have a right to know that your vote will be counted the right way.”
The state has demanded the removal of ballot boxes, as well as the return of any ballots to local election offices October 15.
State and county Republican parties have claimed responsibility for the drop boxes and argue they’re legal under the state’s “ballot harvesting” laws.
“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,” the California GOP tweeted Monday.
The party did not respond to multiple requests for comment from CapRadio.
In a series of tweets, the state Republican Party claimed the unauthorized ballot boxes are legal under Assembly Bill 1921, which passed in 2016. The law allows voters to designate an individual to return their ballot.
The secretary of state sent a memo to county election officials on Sunday refuting this argument.
“When a voter drops off a ballot in an unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail drop box, no designated ‘person’ would be signing, as required by state law,” the memo states.
Republican parties at the county level helped deploy the boxes, and are named in the cease-and-desist order.
Susan Abbott with the Fresno County Republican Party confirmed “the party did set up the boxes” in Fresno County, but that “they have been removed.” She did not elaborate further.
It’s unclear if all the drop boxes have been removed. The party took down a webpage that detailed their locations.
A request for comment from Fred Vanderhoof, chairman of the Fresno County Republican Party, went unanswered.
Brandi Orth, Fresno County Registrar of Voters, told CapRadio she reported the unofficial boxes to the Secretary of State over the weekend out of concern that the ad hoc collection of ballots would compromise election protocols.
CapRadio confirmed that a number of other counties —including Sacramento, Butte, Yolo and San Joaquin — have not seen the unauthorized drop boxes, though their registrars of voters offered condemnation.
Jesse Salinas, registrar of voters in Yolo County, called the unauthorized drop boxes “truly disturbing.”
Butte County registrar Candace J. Grubbs called the GOP’s move “absolutely ridiculous.”
And Grubbs offered a word of caution for anyone thinking of deploying the boxes in Butte County: “If they did that here, I’d tar and feather them.”
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