UPDATED 10/13, 10:35 a.m. ET: California’s GOP has, per the New York Times, “admitted responsibility for placing more than 50 deceptively labeled “official” drop boxes for mail-in ballots in Los Angeles, Fresno, and Orange Counties.” State officials confirmed the activity is illegal and may contribute to voter fraud.
Cali’s Secretary of State and Attorney General issued a cease-and-desist to state and county Republicans and ordered the misleading boxes removed. But California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas said they'll keep distributing the boxes and won't label them as a Republican effort.
“There is nothing in any of the laws or regulations cited in that advisory that indicate private organization drop boxes are not permitted,” said Barajas. “The way Democrats wrote the law, if we wanted to use a Santa bag, we could. A locked heavy box seems a lot safer."
See original story below.
California officials have claimed that the state's GOP has installed unofficial ballot drop-off boxes across the state, and in doing so they've violated state law.
Washington Post reports that the Republican party has actively pushed for voters to put their mail-in ballots in these specific boxes, which feature a sign reading, "Official ballot drop-off box." The locations targeted by the GOP appear to be gun stores, churches, and gyms, with many advertising the fake drop-off boxes on social media. These boxes, however, are not county-authorized and state officials say they're actually illegal.
In a since-deleted tweet, a regional field director for the California GOP asked people to DM him for "convenient locations" to drop off their ballots, presumably to encourage the usage of these fake boxes.
"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,” Alex Padilla, California's Democratic Secretary of State. "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."
According to the secretary of state's office, erecting or advertising an unofficial ballot box is a felony that carries between two to four years prison time. The official ballot return locations are listed on the secretary of state's website, while the GOP had urged voters to deliver their ballots to unlisted sites at numerous locations. While the fake ballot locations were listed on the GOP's site, the page has since been removed.
In a reply on Twitter, the state's GOP defended the decision. "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?"
Essentially, the GOP claims it is using a 2016 law called "ballot harvesting," which is a practice allowed in some states in which campaign volunteers collect ballots on a door-to-door basis. While the controversial-but-legal practice has been criticized by the GOP in the past, it's now the same practice it has claimed to utilize.
Padilla's office believes they're not legal under this 2016 law, though, as the statute requires that a voter designates a "person" to return the ballot. The unofficial drop-off boxes have no person present with them to make the practice legal, Padilla has argued.