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Editorial: Voter beware. Fake ballot boxes are just the start of this election’s dirty tricks

Mail-in ballot drop box
Lei Linh-Pham drops off a mail-in ballot at the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters office.
(Associated Press)

Voters beware: In a year full of conspiracy theories, misinformation and other election-oriented claptrap — much of it coming from the president himself — it’s more important than ever to be a savvy participant in our democracy.

For starters, don’t leave your ballot in some random drop box. The Orange County Register and other news outlets reported over the weekend that GOP groups around the state had set up unauthorized ballot boxes at party offices, churches and gun shops, apparently hoping to spur more Republicans to vote in the November election.

In one example in Orange County, a California Republican Party official posted a picture of himself beside a metal delivery box labeled “official ballot drop off box,” and he urged voters to message him for more “convenient locations” to drop their ballots.

Such unofficial drop boxes are not only risky for voting security, they’re illegal, Secretary of State Alex Padilla warned Sunday. Setting up a rogue ballot box is a felony and, if convicted, the perpetrators could be locked up for two to four years. The only mail-in ballot drop boxes allowed are those authorized by county election officials, who are responsible for ensuring that the boxes are tamper-proof and that there is a chain of custody when ballots are collected.

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These wanna-be ballot boxes are also unnecessary. Orange County, for example, has more than 100 ballot drop-off boxes that are available 24 hours a day until voting ends at 8 p.m. on Nov. 3. Los Angeles County has more than 400 secure drop-off boxes installed by the registrar-recorder. Every ballot mailing includes a list of the drop-off boxes near the voter’s address. And, of course, voters can put their ballots in a mailbox, give them to their postal carrier or hand-deliver them to voting centers.

Voters can also track their ballot online, so they know exactly when it is received and counted.

The problem is that the misinformer in chief has sowed distrust in the state’s election system and in mail-in ballots in general (despite the fact that, as a registered voter in Florida, President Trump has been casting his vote by mail while living in the White House).

The Fresno County Republican Party, citing the president, promoted its unauthorized drop-off boxes as the safer way to vote.

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“President Trump is very concerned about the lack of security with mail in ballots,” the Fresno GOP website read. “Don’t take a chance that your vote will not be counted.”

The irony is that the party’s answer to alleged voting insecurities is to create its own insecure (and apparently illegal) voting operation. Wisely, the county GOP announced it would remove the rogue boxes after Padilla’s warnings, according to the Fresno Bee. Padilla and Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra sent a cease-and-desist letter to the state, Orange County, Los Angeles County and Fresno County Republican parties, telling them to remove the boxes by Thursday.

But a spokesman for the state GOP told CBS13 in Sacramento that the party may add more boxes, albeit without the “official” label, in spots frequented by Republicans, such as gun stores and churches. The boxes, spokesman
Hector Barajas said, are just a form of “ballot harvesting,” which the state authorized in a 2016 law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Before the law was passed, only a family member or a member of the household was permitted to deliver a ballot on behalf of a registered voter. Assembly Bill 1921 relaxed that rule, allowing anyone to deliver mail-in ballots — campaign workers, party officials, you name it — as long as that person’s compensation wasn’t tied to the number of ballots collected.

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The law requires voters to designate a person to turn in their ballot, and the designee has to sign the ballot envelope and state his or her relationship to the voter. Padilla’s office said the GOP ran afoul by asking voters to turn in their ballots to a box, not a person. That leaves little accountability if ballots go missing.

The shenanigans are hardly surprising. Voting security advocates have warned that California’s law gives too much leeway for private citizens or party activists to collect and deliver multiple ballots. Large-scale ballot collection could enable voter fraud and other improprieties, undermining confidence in the election. Given Trump’s incessant attacks on voting procedures, the last thing the election system needs is for the public to have another reason to doubt the results.

There was a time when activists might have been able to argue that ballot collection was needed to help people who couldn’t get to the polls. That’s simply not necessary for the vast majority of Californians today. There are safe, secure and convenient ways to cast a ballot without relying on a party activist to turn it in.


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