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Are California GOP's Fake Ballot Drop Boxes Legal?​

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 05:  An official mail-in ballot drop box is posted outside of a library ahead of Election Day on October 5, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. Early voting has begun in California with Los Angeles County posting 400 secure vote-by-mail drop boxes across the county. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
By Andrew Leonatti on October 15, 2020 7:32 AM

This blog has previously written about the furor surrounding the drop box. Many states are deploying them to soothe voters' fears about U.S. Postal Service inefficiencies with delivering mail-in ballots on time.

But the Trump campaign and many Republican elected officials argue that drop boxes are voter fraud magnets. Without constant surveillance, they say, voters could stuff boxes or simply throw out ballots already deposited.

But the drop box wars have now entered a new phase.

California GOP Says What's Good for the Goose ...

In California, where the state has ballot drop boxes scattered throughout the state, people began to notice some extra drop boxes showing up in other locations. The boxes look similar to the official drop boxes, and they even have signs on them labeled "official ballot drop-off box" or "ballot drop box."

It turns out that the California Republican Party is behind the mysterious boxes, which are anything but official. But, they could be legal.

So far, the party has placed more than 50 boxes near gun shops, churches, and party offices across Los Angeles, Fresno, and Orange Counties. While President Trump is not expected to carry the state in the presidential election, that part of California is home to several hotly contested congressional elections, and the boxes could boost turnout for Republican voters.

Ballot Harvesting Is Legal in California

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both Democrats, sent cease-and-desist letters to the party, warning that they are breaking the law.

But the state GOP is defiant, with spokesman Hector Barajas saying they will place more of the boxes throughout the state, with the "official" labels on them.

Barajas and the party argue that California's so-called "ballot harvesting" law allows the use of the boxes, and that the party is simply making it easier for voters to return their ballots. That 2016 law does away with the requirement that only a spouse, family member, or roommate can return someone else's mail-in ballot for them.

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

Padilla and Becerra are not accusing GOP officials of "selective harvesting," or going through the returned ballots in their boxes and disposing of ones they suspect of being for Democratic candidates. Padilla argues, though, that the boxes are not covered by any laws, and they "are misleading to the public."

Despite the election being less than three weeks away, this issue is likely far from over. Other groups in California are likely to experiment with this tactic in future elections, and courts or lawmakers may need to weigh in.

What Should You Do?

If you live in California, the state maintains a ballot tracking program online that you can use to make sure your ballot is delivered and counted. This is important if you think you put your ballot in one of these phony "official" drop boxes. Many other states are also utilizing programs like this now due to the huge increase in mail-in ballots in this election.

The matter also highlights important arguments around ballot harvesting. If you need to give your ballot to someone else to deliver it for you, you should only hand it over to someone you trust. Do your homework first.

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