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California GOP sets up unofficial ballot drop boxes: 3 things to know

California’s top election official said unofficial ballot boxes put out by the Republican Party are illegal, and the GOP was ordered to remove the unofficial ballot drop boxes on Monday.

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California’s top election official said unofficial ballot boxes put out by the Republican Party are illegal, and the GOP was ordered to remove the unofficial ballot drop boxes on Monday.

“To misrepresent unofficial boxes as official further misleads voters and erodes the public trust,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said.

Due to the coronavirus and concerns about health safety at polling places, California for the first time mailed ballots for the Nov. 3 election to all active registered voters — more than 21 million people. The ballots come with pre-paid envelopes for voters to mail back, free of charge.

Republicans set up their drop boxes over the weekend at churches, gas stations and gun shops in at least three California counties. Some are identified as “secure ballot dropoff location,” while others say “approved and bought by the GOP.”

California Republican Party spokesperson Hector Barajas said Monday the boxes provide a convenient place for individuals to turn in their ballots.

“I understand the secretary of state has issued a letter of cease and desist,” Barajas said. “The message we have to the secretary of state and the attorney general is: We’ll see you in court.”

Sister station KCRA spoke with a political expert to learn more about the situation.

1) Republican Party says ballot boxes are legal

Barajas said the party has put out the ballot boxes statewide with no intention of removing them.

“I think what the Republicans are doing is playing a little fast and loose,” said Dr. Keith Smith, political science professor at the University of the Pacific. “They’re saying, ‘Hey, we’ll take your ballots, making sure that section is filled in for you, we’ll just make it a little easier for you to get your ballot submitted.’ But the moment it becomes a problem is when they put 'official' on the box.”

Barajas would not confirm the number of ballot boxes owned by the party of where others are located.

He said this is the first year the party has used them.

2) Only county registrar can establish official ballot drop boxes

Smith said there are a number of rules and criteria that must be met in order to install an official ballot drop box.

Only a county registrar’s office can set up official ballot drop boxes within their county. The secure boxes can sometimes weigh more than 600 pounds and are monitored frequently by local election officials.

“Putting the ‘official’ ballot box label on it, I think, is where it crosses the line into a problematic area,” Smith said about the boxes the GOP set up.

3) Ballot harvesting is legal in California

In California, a voter can authorize someone else to drop off their ballot.

The state also allows ballot harvesting, where an individual collects ballots from voters and then turns them in.

That’s what the Republican Party said it’s doing by using the unofficial drop boxes as a way to harvest votes.

But the Padilla said the person who collects those ballots must provide their relationship to the voter. He said that’s not possible with a drop box.

“It’s kind of in the gray area,” Smith said. “On the envelope, I don’t have to know the person. All I have to do is specify. But there’s actually nothing that says I have to be the one writing their name and getting their signature and specifying the relationship. All I have to do is entrust my ballot to someone who will then do that and fill that information in. As long as that information is complete, then the ballot can be submitted to the registrar.”

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The Associated Press contributed to this story.