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Trump falsely claims fraud in L.A. elections. The truth is there were few problems

More than 1 million voters in Los Angeles County used vote-by-mail drop locations to cast their ballots.
More than 1 million voters in Los Angeles County used vote-by-mail drop locations to cast their ballots.
(Matt Stiles / Los Angeles Times)

Voters may have differed on their ballot choices in last week’s election, but they seemed to be in agreement on one thing: Drop boxes are a great idea.

The boxes sprinkled around Los Angeles County were a “phenomenal” success, according to the county’s top election official.

President Trump thinks they’re evidence of fraud.

Spoiler alert. They’re not.

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The president Wednesday tweeted a long-debunked video showing election workers collecting votes from a drop box on Nov. 4, the day after polls closed, suggesting that the process is evidence of fraud.

In fact, the boxes had been closed and locked the night of the election, when the polls closed, and it took time for election workers to collect them in the following days. Under state law, mail votes cast by election day will be collected and counted until Nov. 20.

The spurious suggestion of fraud is the latest in the president’s strategy to question the results of the election, in which former Vice President Joe Biden was declared the winner Saturday.

Fact checkers have since debunked concerns about the drop boxes, more than 400 of which were spread from Lancaster to Long Beach.

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Dean Logan, the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk and the county’s top elections official, has previously sought on Twitter to dispute the video. He told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the mail drop boxes “turned out to be a phenomenal element of this election.”

More than 1.3 million residents in Los Angeles County cast their ballots using the drop boxes, officials have said.

His office issued another denial in response.

“Yes, they are ballots; valid, legally cast ballots collected and processed by authorized election officials in accordance with the California Elections Code,” the tweet read.

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At issue is a video that has circulated on the internet for days in which a woman confronts county election workers collecting ballots from a drop box in Reseda. It suggests that the votes were somehow cast after the election, in which Biden overwhelmingly won California.

The election workers, one of whom flashes a government employee badge in response to the woman’s concern, seem befuddled by the inquiry and continu stacking the mailed ballots into bags secured by zippers.

Twitter flagged the post, providing a link for users, saying “Learn how voting by mail is safe and secure.”

Trump’s tweet drew a figurative eye roll from election officials — and little heartburn about whether Trump’s baseless fraud claims might sway the election.

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“It’s going to be really nice to have a President who isn’t an internet troll trafficking already debunked conspiracy theories,” Sam Mahood, a spokesman for Secretary of State Alex Padilla, tweeted from his personal account.

Drop boxes weren’t the only part of the county’s election infrastructure that earned praise. Overall, the $300-million system received high marks for performing without any serious problems, a sharp turnaround from the March primary, when the newly unveiled infrastructure created long lines and significant delays at the polls.

Speaking to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Logan pronounced the new system a “success” and earned praise from the same panel that grilled him in March about the problems during the primary.

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Logan told the supervisors that his office had worked diligently to fix problems since conducting a review of the technology breakdowns in the primary. He said voter behavior also helped, with many voters opting to vote by mail or vote early at the polls, which relieved the strain on new electronic poll books that caused major delays in March.

“Our long-term investment and hard work in L.A. County was worth it,” he said. “The execution of this election was successful.”

Voters in L.A. County heeded warnings about in-person voting complications and delays that they experienced in March, and they decided to cast the majority of their ballots by mail — a first for Los Angeles County.

While ballots are still trickling in and the tallying continues, about 3.4 million voters in Los Angeles County — roughly 80% — cast vote-by-mail ballots either through the Postal Service or drop boxes. That’s more than double the rate of the 2016 presidential election.

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Perhaps just as important, more than half of the 850,000 voters who did cast their ballots at voting centers did so early. The final turnout figure stood at about 72% as of Tuesday evening, with at least 142,000 ballots left to count.

Supervisor Janice Hahn, who was a vocal critic in March and urged Logan to review issues that sparked long lines and anger from voters, said she agreed with his assessment. She said voters had a “good experience” this time.

“I’m hopeful that March was just a hiccup and that our elections going forward will be as smooth as this one,” she said.

The pandemic was a major factor in changing voter behavior this year.

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It prompted officials to mail ballots to all the state’s registered voters, not just those who requested them. And ballots received by Nov. 20 can still be counted so long as they were postmarked by election day. Officials are also allowing voters extra time to fix any deficiencies in their mail ballots, such as mismatched or missing signatures.

In addition, voters were allowed to register on election day, leading to hundreds of thousands of conditional votes statewide.

The extra time to count the votes has clouded the results in three closely watched and undecided congressional elections in California, including two in Southern California. Still, the vast majority of votes — precisely how many is unknown — have most likely already been cast, experts say.

“I would be very surprised if many more ballots come in at this point,” said Mindy Romero, who directs the Center for Inclusive Democracy at USC whose team has studied the L.A. County vote closely. “We’ve got a lot of ballots still out there. I think, though, that the picture will become clearer in the next couple of days.”

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Election experts said the county’s voting system in Los Angeles appears to have met its high expectations, even while changing long-held routines and habits developed around election night.

“The big thing is, you don’t really know how a new electoral system is going to play until you test in practice,” said Kevin Wallsten, professor of political science at Cal State Long Beach. “It seems like L.A. County, in particular, performed pretty well.”


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