The California GOP Is Planting Its Own Ballot Drop Boxes Across the Region

The new boxes are labeled ”official,” but the Secretary of State’s office says they’re actually illegal

Although Donald Trump has been throwing tantrums and spreading conspiracy theories about mail-in ballots since the start of the pandemic, the California GOP is suddenly on board with the practice—so long as voters cast their ballots at one of the unofficial drop boxes it’s installed across SoCal.

The green boxes—which Republicans recently installed at locations such as gas stations and smog check facilities—are labeled “Official ballot drop-off box,” but they are not remotely official. In fact, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla told the Washington Post that the unsanctioned boxes are against the law.

“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 an email. “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.”

And despite a warning on the Secretary of State’s website that setting up or advertising unofficial election drop boxes could constitute felonies carrying two- to four-year sentences, local Republicans haven’t been shy about promoting the scheme.

On Friday, GOP regional field director Jordan Tygh, a supporter of Orange County congressional candidate Michelle Steel, tweeted a pic of himself at one of the boxes with the caption, “Doing my part and voting early […] DM me for convenient locations to drop your ballot off at!”

Twitter deleted that post for violating its rules (a list of official mail-in sites is posted on Padilla’s website), but the California GOP is still defending its proxy voting locals on social media.

“If a congregation/business or other group provides the option to its parishioners/associates/ or colleagues to drop off their ballot in a safe location, with people they trust, rather than handing it over to a stranger who knocks on their door—what is wrong with that?” it tweeted on Sunday.

And when incumbent OC congressman Harley Rouda tweeted against his opponent, “@MichelleSteelCA proving, yet again, that she’s the most corrupt politician in Orange County. Steel’s team is using fake and illegal ‘official’ ballot drop boxes,” the National Republican Congressional Committee replied:

“Looks like Junior here is only ok with ballot harvesting when it’s the Democrats ballot harvesting. Go back to the beach, bro.”

“Ballot harvesting” refers to a 2016 state law which Republicans are leaning on in their attempt to make their personal ballot-catchers seem legit. The California GOP explained its reasoning in another Sunday tweet.

Padilla’s office countered that, under the 2016 law, voters may hand their ballots over to any designated “person,” who then delivers the ballot on their behalf, whereas the GOP’s boxes operate with a lack of any identifiable persons.

It’s also interesting that Republicans are suddenly down with ballot harvesting, considering that they sued Governor Gavin Newsom over the practice when Katie Hill’s congressional seat was up for grabs in a May special election. Though many Republicans have downplayed the COVID-19 threat, when they filed suit in April the party claimed that allowing campaigners to go door to door collecting ballots conflicted with California shelter-in-place rules.

Party chair Jessica Millan Patterson said at the time that Newsom was “putting Californians’ lives at risk […] If we can’t see our mothers on Mother’s Day, then strangers shouldn’t be visiting our homes to collect ballots.”

Another hitch for the GOP’s ballot receptacles is that official drop-off boxes are required to have security features to prevent ballot tampering, which the GOP containers also lack.

“Voters are in control of how to return their ballot, and they have multiple safe and secure options for doing so,” Padilla said. “Ballots can be returned by mail, to any in-person voting location, or to an official secure drop box. Never hand your ballot over to someone you don’t trust.”

A rep for Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer has said that prosecutors there are also investigating reports of illegal ballot boxes.

RELATED: Los Angeles Magazine’s Guide to Election 2020

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