California GOP Says Unofficial Drop Boxes Are Legal as State Orders Their Removal

California GOP Says Unofficial Drop Boxes Are Legal as State Orders Their Removal
A ballot is dropped off at an official ballot drop box in Monterey Park, Calif., on Oct. 5, 2020. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
Drew Van Voorhis

Unofficial ballot drop boxes that have appeared throughout Southern California are legal, state GOP officials say, but the Attorney General and Secretary of State have sent a cease and desist order to the California Republican Party demanding their removal.

Discoveries of the unofficial ballot drop boxes in Orange, Los Angeles, and Fresno counties have prompted concern from state and local election officials, and the Orange County District Attorney, since they first appeared. The DA's Office told The Epoch Times that it has opened an investigation and said significant charges are possible for those who set them up.

While state officials demand their removal, local and state Republicans are defending the legitimacy of the unofficial drop boxes, saying they are in compliance with state law and accusing Democrats of party politics.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla blamed the state Republican Party for setting up the unofficial boxes and violating state law in an Oct. 12 press release.
The two sent a cease and desist letter to GOP officials in Orange, Los Angeles, and Fresno counties, as well as the state, demanding that they immediately remove the ballot boxes, and threatening possible prosecution if the parties do not comply by Oct 15. The letter also requests the names and addresses of the voters who dropped their ballots in the boxes, and the location of each unofficial box.

"Anyone who tampers with the vote is tampering with free and fair elections. We will do all that's necessary under law to protect Californians' right to vote," Becerra said.

There have been multiple unofficial ballot boxes found so far throughout Southern California and the state, including one in Orange County, two in Los Angeles County, and over a dozen in Fresno County, according to the cease and desist letter.

An attachment to the letter shows a social media post from the mayor of Palmdale stating that unofficial collection boxes had been set up outside of over a dozen churches in Southern California.

Divergent Views

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla condemned the unofficial ballot drop boxes and urged voters to use only official drop boxes. On Oct. 11, he said his office was coordinating efforts with local officials to address the multiple reports.

“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,” Padilla told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement.

“Voters are in control of how to return their ballot, and they have multiple safe and secure options for doing so. Ballots can be returned by mail, to any in-person voting location, or to an official secure drop box.”

But Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the California Republican Party, told The Epoch Times that Democratic anger over the boxes is “overblown.”

“State law allows organizations, volunteers or campaign workers to collect completed ballots and drop them off at polling places or election offices,” Barajas said in an email.

He said using private ballot boxes is legal, based on the ballot harvesting law written by Democrats.

"If Democrats are so concerned with ballot harvesting, they are the ones who wrote the legislation, voted for it, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. California Republicans would be happy to do away with ballot harvesting,” Barajas said.

“In California, where you can have convicted felons and individuals with a criminal history go door to door and collect ballots from voters, Democrats are now upset because organizations, individuals and groups are offering an opportunity for their friends, family, and patrons to drop off their ballot with someone they know and trust.”

Barajas said the Secretary of State’s actions are simply an attempt to deflect criticism of his partisan politics.

“The Secretary of State's actions is just a deflection from the mounting criticism for giving a non-budgeted, $35 million get-out-the-vote contract to a ‘Team Biden’ PR [public relations] firm, which is also receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to oppose Republican candidates in targeted California districts,” Barajas said.

"The Democrats amended the law to remove all of the restrictions on WHO can harvest ballots and provided NO rules about HOW ballots can be collected except that someone cannot be compensated per-ballot.”

Barajas said that the California GOP’s program “goes above and beyond, is less coercive and more secure than other methods of collecting ballots.”

"The way Democrats wrote the law, if we wanted to use a Santa bag, we could. A locked heavy box seems a lot safer,” he said.

Padilla said, “Never hand your ballot over to someone you don’t trust. Official county drop boxes are built with specific security protections, and ballots are retrieved only by designated county personnel.”

The DA Gets Involved

Kimberly Edds, spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and DA Todd Spitzer, told The Epoch Times that the DA’s office received an initial report on Oct. 11 “that there were unauthorized drop boxes that were placed in at least two Orange County cities.”

“We immediately launched an investigation by our DA investigators who are assigned to our election team, and that investigation is ongoing at the moment. Once the investigation is complete, then it will go through a comprehensive legal review to see if criminal charges are warranted,” Edds said.

“We have an entire team of prosecutors and DA investigators who are assigned to our election team. They've done extensive training for the Registrar of Voters, as well as local law enforcement, to recognize violations of election law, including election fraud.”

Edds added that the DA’s team of prosecutors and investigators is available to the Registrar of Voters as well as local law enforcement “24/7 throughout the election cycle.”

A spokesperson for the Orange County Registrar of Voters said the office “immediately acted” once they received reports of an unauthorized drop box.

“We shared [the information] with the state. The state has issued guidance on the use of unauthorized ballot drop boxes ... so we're kind of waiting to see what happens next,” the spokesperson, who requested anonymity, told The Epoch Times.

“We issued a press release this morning and published it on our social social media accounts to let voters know to use authorized ballot drop boxes and to report any unauthorized ballot drop boxes to our office.”

Neal Kelley, the Orange County registrar of voters, also informed the Orange County District Attorney’s office of the report.

Kelley said he first heard reports last weekend of about half a dozen unofficial drop boxes in the county, including one that turned out to be a cardboard box in Seal Beach. He said his office began investigating immediately.

An Orange County official ballot drop box in Santa Ana, Calif., on Sept. 18, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
An Orange County official ballot drop box in Santa Ana, Calif., on Sept. 18, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Local Candidates Weigh In

One unofficial drop box was discovered in Orange County when a state Republican Party official posted a photo on his Twitter account, showing him dropping a ballot into the box.

The official, Jordan Tygh, a regional field director for the California GOP, posted a now-deleted photo of himself holding his ballot next to the box on Oct. 8. He urged viewers to message him for “convenient locations to drop your ballot off at.”

The unofficial box was a vertical gray metal container with a lock, similar to a file cabinet, with a self-printed sign taped to it that said “Official Ballot Drop Off Box.” It looked completely different than the official boxes, which are larger, more colorful, and clearly marked on all sides by local authorities.

In his Twitter post, Tygh also urged people to vote for Michelle Steel, the current chairwoman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors who is running for Congress in the 48th District.

Steel told The Epoch Times in a statement that she “doesn’t condone any unofficial means of collecting ballots.”

But her Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, incumbent Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), posted a statement on his website claiming that Steel was behind the unofficial drop box.

“Michelle Steel is proving, yet again, that she is the most corrupt politician in Orange County,” Rouda stated.

“Orange County deserves a leader who will protect the integrity of our elections, not orchestrate voter fraud. This craven, illegal, and criminal behavior is disqualifying.”

Steel responded: “Harley Rouda is desperate to divert attention from the fact that he has recently been exposed for cutting his own employee’s health care and retirement accounts and pushing higher taxes on Orange County families even though he doesn’t pay his own. Now he wants to suppress the vote of honest churchgoers in Orange County."

Lance Trover, a spokesman for Steel’s campaign, told The Epoch Times that the photo showing Jordan Tygh with the unofficial ballot box was not taken in Steel’s campaign office.

Drew Van Voorhis is a California-based daily news reporter for The Epoch Times. He has been a journalist for six years, during which time he has broken several viral national news stories and has been interviewed for his work on both radio and internet shows.