California elections officials said on Sunday that the state Republican Party has been breaking the law by placing makeshift, unauthorized ballot dropoff boxes around the state and falsely labeling them “official.”
Following reports of the mysterious ballot collection boxes on Sunday, the chief of California’s elections division released a statement saying “the use of unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes does not comply with state law governing ballot collection activities.”
On Monday morning, Orange County’s Republican voter registrar released a statement reiterating that unofficial ballot boxes are illegal and urging voters to deposit ballots into boxes bearing the official county seal.
The first unofficial boxes were spotted in Southern California, according to the Orange County Register and KCAL. At least one of the boxes disappeared after locals notified election officials in Los Angeles County, and it’s not clear how many, if any, ballots had already been deposited before the box was removed.
The California GOP previously promoted the unofficial collection boxes on social media and on a now-defunct webpage hosted by the Fresno County chapter of the party.
The state GOP defended the boxes on Twitter after election officials condemned them on Sunday, revealing how the party is undermining other, legal get-out-the-vote activities.
“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?” the California GOP tweeted on Sunday.
The National Republican Congressional Committee tweeted a similar defense.
But the answer is fairly simple, according to California law: A box is not a person.
Voters are legally allowed to “designate a person to return the ballot to the elections official who issued the ballot.” Often, voters unable to make it to an official ballot box themselves will designate a volunteer to drop their ballot off for them. Earlier this year, California Republicans sued Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and other state officials to ban this practice, which was codified into law in 2016.
Many Americans are expected to vote from home this year due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic, and designating a volunteer is one vital way to do so. But California Republicans argued that the pandemic is reason to allow less voting from home, not more.
“If we can’t see our mothers on Mother’s Day, then strangers shouldn’t be visiting our homes to collect ballots,” California Republican Party Chair Jessica Millan Patterson said in April.
To be clear, the state of California does allow designated volunteers to drop off voters’ ballots, but it does not and never has disallowed anyone from visiting their mothers on Mother’s Day.
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