Across Los Angeles, Fresno, and Orange County, fake ballot boxes were distributed and almost indistinguishable from the official drop-off sites maintained by the state. But only after being bombarded with countless questions from reporters did the California Republican Party admit to placing more those 50 “official” drop boxes for mail-in ballots over the weekend. As a result, state officials have called this an illegal act that could lead to voter fraud.
State Republicans reportedly ordered 100 drop boxes they intended to install in strategic areas, but only managed to place 50 before California’s secretary of state, Alex Padilla, caught wind of the fake ballot boxes. On Monday, Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a cease-and-desist order to both state and county-level Republican parties demanding they remove the boxes because it was “misleading” to voters and is “not permitted by state law.” The memo also states that creating an illegal polling site is a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
But Hector Barajas, a spokesperson for the California Republican Party, said that they wouldn’t take down the dropboxes, claiming that party’s actions did not break any laws as California is one of 26 states that does not restrict “ballot harvesting,” which allows a third party to collect voters’ completed ballots so long as it meets verification requirements.. In fact, they would continue to place the boxes as they had been around mostly conservative areas in the largely liberal state. So far, they have targeted areas around churches, gun shops, and Republican Party offices. Barajas said they will also not be adding any additional labels to identify them explicitly as unofficial ballot boxes.
According to the New York Times, an operative with direct knowledge of the ballot boxes said Republican officials placed the boxes in an attempt to boost voter turnout, especially in competitive local elections. One of the issues is that they were deceptively labeled. The boxes all had signage saying they were “official” drop boxes. But unlike sites sanctioned by the state, these boxes are not governed by strict regulations to prevent partisan manipulation. That is one of the primary concerns with ballot harvesting. Even in states where it is legal, there is the risk that this process could be used to tamper with or selectively discard ballots.
Padilla rejected Barajas’ claim that the party’s collection attempts fall under legal protections because the intent behind them was to “mislead voters and erode the public trust.” Ultimately, he urged voters who might have dropped off their ballots at one of these ballot boxes to sign up with the state’s voter tracking website to make sure their ballot is submitted and counted.
Republicans have until October 15 to remove the drop boxes. Otherwise, Padilla says his office will “consider all of our legal options” which includes both civil and criminal charges.