A woman places her ballot paper in the box during early voting Getty Images/Mark Ralston
The California Republican Party is operating unofficial ballot drop boxes that Secretary of State Alex Padilla said on Sunday were in "violation of state law."
Jordan Tygh, a regional field director for the California Republican Party, promoted an "official ballot drop off box" on Twitter and urged followers to message him for "convenient locations" to drop their ballots last week, The Orange County Register first reported. One voter reported an "Official Ballot Drop Box" that was "approved and bought by the GOP" outside of a Los Angeles area church before it was removed after county officials warned on social media that it was "not an official vote by mail drop box and does not comply with [state] regulations for drop boxes," according to KCAL.
This is @JordanTygh, a regional field director for the California GOP encouraging people to hit him up to find drop off locations for ballots. The problem? These drop boxes are fakes and that is illegal. pic.twitter.com/J9g4QUiPHD
— Tim Jennings (@TheTimJennings) October 12, 2020
The boxes were set up across Southern California in front of churches, gyms, and gun stores by the California GOP, according to The Washington Post. One chapter of the state Republican Party in California rolled out its own drop-off sites while echoing President Donald Trump's baseless allegations over the "security" of mail voting even though it has been repeatedly shown to be safe and secure.
"CONSERVATIVE VOTER ALERT!," the Fresno GOP said while announcing a list of unofficial locations to drop off ballots. "President Trump is very concerned about the lack of security with mail in ballots. Don't take a chance that your vote will not be counted. Once your ballot arrives in the mail, mark your ballot completely and then walk it in, as soon as possible, to one of the secure locations listed below. Make sure your vote counts!"
Padilla, a Democrat, said on Sunday that it was illegal to operate unofficial ballot drop 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," he told the Post. "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."
The OC Register reported that those operating the unofficial drop boxes could face felony charges that carry up to two to four years in prison.
Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley told the the outlet that he had received hundreds of complaints about the drop boxes.
"What we did was started to look into it, notified the state, and the Secretary of State issued guidance this afternoon that it is illegal and you can't do that," he said. "It would be like me installing a mailbox out on the corner – the post office is the one that installs mailboxes."
The Republican Party defended the drop boxes on Twitter.
"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?" a spokesperson for the California GOP wrote on Twitter.
The national Republican Party also defended the drop boxes, arguing that they were not unlike "ballot parties" held by state Democrats where participants can fill out mail-in ballots and have them turned in en masse by party volunteers.
"This procedure has been in place since 2016 — not sure why people are all of a sudden surprised," the California GOP argued, referring to a law approved by the state legislature allowing "ballot harvesting."
Padilla said in a letter to election officials on Sunday that the unofficial drop boxes are not legal under the 2016 law because it requires voters to designate a specific "person" to submit their ballot. He said the drop boxes also do not meet the security requirements that are mandate for official drop off boxes.
"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."
Election experts criticized the potentially illegal ploy amid concerns over mail voting, which have grown in no small part due to the president actively seeking to sow doubt in the election results.
"This is far less than ideal in a a far less than ideal election when we are desperately trying to tell people that they can trust the election systems, where we're telling people if you don't trust the mail, then use an official ballot drop box," Loyola Law Professor Jessica Levinson told KCAL. "This does not do good things for people's trust in our elections."