Recently I had the pleasure of taking two mail-in ballots – my husband’s and mine – to a very convenient drop-off location at our local library here in San Diego County.
This location was designated by, and manned by, the San Diego County Registrar of Voters office.
The box was located outside the library on a table, and two paid poll workers from the Registrar’s Office were present.
I presented two ballots, and one of the workers asked if I was dropping off for someone else. When I answered in the affirmative, she pointed to the back of my husband’s ballot envelope where, on the right side, under “Person Authorized to Return,” there was a place to print my name, sign my name, and write the nature of our relationship, like this example:
I did as she asked, and dropped both ballots in the box.
Not all Registrar ballot drop-off boxes are manned by paid poll workers, but they are official, legal drop-off boxes deployed and secured by the county elections office:
The next day I went online to track our ballots – a super-simple process – and learned that “Your ballot has been accepted. Your ballot was received by your county elections office and will be counted.”
This happened so quickly because the ballot box went from the library directly to the county elections office.
This was an all-around easy experience, and I have the peace of mind that my husband’s and my ballot will be counted.
Not everyone can do this for a variety of reasons – perhaps they’re bedridden, or otherwise too ill to make the trip to a drop-off location. Perhaps they feel safer staying home during the pandemic. Perhaps there’s a group of people – in a nursing home, for example – who need to stay in place and give their ballots to a trusted person.
Whatever the reason, in California it’s legal for someone else to drop off your ballot. It’s also legal for someone to collect a number of ballots and take them to a drop-off location.
This is called “ballot collection.”
According to an October 13 article in the Sacramento Bee:
“Ballot collection allows a designated person to deliver a voter’s mail ballot for them, and Californians have been doing it for several years.
“Previously, if California a voter was unable to return their mail ballot themselves, they could designate a family member or person living in the same household to deliver it to a ballot drop box, the county elections office, or send it back in the mail.
“But in 2016, under Assembly Bill 1921, the state Legislature expanded the law to let any person, not just a family member, return someone’s ballot for them.”
The article goes on to say,
“Republicans originally opposed ballot collection, saying such practices could open the door for fraud and could give Democrats an unfair advantage.”
Critics of the process call it “ballot harvesting.”
Including this critic, in this May 2020 story:
How times have changed – and how Republican have changed their tune.
So far, only in California. So far…
The California GOP decided to do their own ballot collecting, and installed more than 50 of their own ballot drop-off boxes in at least three California counties – Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange:
Some GOP ballot boxes look like this, with the word “Official” on the label:
Other boxes look like this – that taped-on label is a nice touch:
And I thought this “Authorized Secure” cardboard moving box in a local smog check business was an especially good idea:
California officials were not pleased, according to an October 13 story on ABC Action News:
“California’s chief elections official on Monday ordered Republicans to remove unofficial, illegal ballot drop boxes from churches, gun shops and other locations and Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned those behind the ‘vote tampering’ could face prosecution.”
(For future reference, in addition to Attorney General Becerra, another official we’ll hear a lot from is Secretary of State Alex Padilla.)
The California GOP responded as follows:
“Republicans say their collection of ballots is no different than the practice of ‘ballot harvesting’ where a third party collects signed ballot envelopes.
“‘Because ballot harvesting is legal, we wanted to be open about it,’ says Fresno County GOP Chairman Fred Vanderhoof. ‘We let people know on Facebook and social media that they could drop their ballot at a secure ballot box and we’ll take it down for them.”
Also on October 13:
“Today, the Secretary of State’s office, jointly with the (California) Department of Justice, issued a cease and desist order to the California Republican party to remove these drop boxes.”
Also – of course – what’s-his-name, now enamored of ballot harvesting, had to put in his two cents’ worth:
Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA), appearing on Central Valley radio station KMJ on October 13, had an equally articulate response:
“Screw you! You created the law, we’re going to ballot harvest.’’
But, according to an October 14 article in Politico:
“Officials argued that the placement of unauthorized drop boxes differs from Democratic ‘ballot harvesting’ efforts because voters assume their ballot will be delivered via an official-looking mechanism – all without signing their ballots.”
The deadline for the California Republican Party to comply or respond to the cease and desist order was Thursday (October 15) night.
The night of October 15 came and went.
Let’s go back to that phrase, “all without signing their ballots.”
That is not referring to the voter signing their ballot. It’s referring to when the voter gives their ballot to someone to deliver it – as my husband gave his ballot to me.
Let’s look again at that image of the back of a ballot return envelope:
Let’s assume that the people who put their ballots in the GOP drop boxes thought they were doing the right thing – using an “official-looking mechanism.” In other words, a Registrar of Voters drop box, with ballots taken straight to the county elections office.
They would have had no reason to have someone else fill out information on the back of their ballot envelope.
But I had to print my name, write my name, and define our relationship so I could deliver my husband’s ballot.
By placing these ballot boxes, the GOP has become the third party responsible for delivering the ballots – haven’t they?
That means they must fill out the back of every ballot envelope collected in their GOP drop boxes – doesn’t it?
But the GOP is not the “Person Authorized to Return,” as is specified on the envelope – is it?
If GOP people fill out the back of the envelope, do they sign “John Doe” or whomever? And in “Relationship to Voter,” they’ll write…
“Friendly neighborhood church”?
“Friendly neighborhood gun shop”?
Or – as in that cardboard drop box location, “Friendly local smog check business”?
I have visions of the GOP rushing to put together a commercial promoting their drop-off locations…
“Hey, there! I’m Cal Fraud, owner of the Your Name Here Gun shop…
“…and I’m inviting all you voters with those mail-in ballot things to drop ‘em off – that’s right, drop ‘em off – here at my gun shop. I’ve got this nice, secure box all set up…
“…and I guarantee that your ballots will be delivered – that’s right, DEE-livered – to a nice, secure place…
“So grab your ballots and come on down to the Your Name Here gun shop, and just ask for Ole Cal. And while you’re here, I’ll make you a sweet – that’s right, SWEET – deal on that AK 47 you’ve been thinking about!”
Here’s where we were as of October 13:
- The Secretary of State’s office, jointly with the (California) Department of Justice, issued a cease and desist order to the California Republican party to remove the drop boxes.
- California Representative Devin Nunes summed up the California Republicans’ response: “Screw you.”
Republicans did agree to remove the word “official” from signs on their ballot boxes. The party’s general counsel suggested that it was “perhaps an overzealous volunteer” who affixed the “official” labels.
Perhaps. But I doubt it.
Then, things really got confusing – from cease and desist to subpoenas.
According to this October 16 article in the Los Angeles Times:
The article says,
“California officials on Friday said that the state Republican Party has agreed to no longer deploy ‘unstaffed, unsecured, unofficial and unauthorized’ private ballot boxes and that subpoenas have been issued in an investigation into how the containers have been used in at least three counties.”
“But aside from correcting some boxes that were wrongly labeled as ‘official’ locations for dropping off completed ballots, GOP officials continued Friday to insist that their activities have been legal. Party leaders have said they will continue to use the boxes to collect ballots, with staffers overseeing the process and delivering the ballots to county elections offices.”
And what about the issue of the voter giving their ballot to another person to deliver – the requirement that the person doing the delivering must print their name, write their name, and describe their relationship to the voter on the back of the envelope?
And according to this October 16 article on NPR:
The article said,
“[Secretary of State] Padilla and [Attorney General] Becerra reiterated that while ballot collection is allowed, state rules require that whoever assists with delivering a ballot sign the envelope to record a chain of custody. But they also said ballots without that signature would not be rejected either.”
Those subpoenas were sounding like a lot of saber rattling, and not much more. It seemed that…
- State officials had backed off, and they weren’t requiring the required information on the back of ballot envelopes.
- Republicans were keeping their ballot boxes in gun shops and et cetera and, by the way, possibly increasing the number of boxes.
- Stern warnings were issued – Padilla said that the Republican Party has “tried to spin their unlawful conduct by playing the victim all week long.” Should his office receive any indication that state law is being violated, he said, it “will not hesitate to act on it immediately.”
- To which California GOP spokesman Hector Barajas sneered, “This is a thuggish voter intimidation and vote suppression tactic by our Democratic attorney general and secretary of state.”
At this point our newspaper’s political cartoonist joined the fray:
Then, on October 18, came this interview on the CBS Weekend News with Major Garrett and Secretary of State Padilla:
The interview included this:
Padilla (referring to the fake ballot boxes): It’s a violation of state law and undermining voter confidence in the election. Thankfully, it seems that they have been removed.
(Actually, it seems that the GOP was removing the word “official,” but not removing the ballot boxes.)
Padilla: Ballot collection has strict requirements, including the person assisting the voter in returning their ballot must also add their name, signature, and relationship to the voter to the envelope. And that, again, is what was lost with these unofficial, unauthorized drop boxes.
(So now the envelopes do have to be signed? Who the hell knows?)
Garrett: Mr. Secretary, I’m sure you noticed, President Trump said, “We’ll see you in court.” He said that on Twitter. Will this be fodder for post-election legal challenges and thereby throw some elections for the U.S. House or state races into doubt?
Padilla: We stand by free and fair elections in California. They are accessible, they are secure, and yes, they are safe, so if Team Trump wants to sue us for anything, we would like our chances (answer appears to be cut off).
The interview appeared to cut off Padilla’s non-answer, but it did include yet another version of the GOP’s fake ballot boxes:
And that’s where we are as of October 23.
Which leaves me with the question…
Why is the California GOP doing this? What do they stand to gain?
In the Los Angeles Times article, California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks had one possible answer:
“I believe what the Republicans are doing is a creative attempt to add confusion to the election.”
And we all know who thrives on creating confusion:
But perhaps – probably – there’s something much more sinister going on here:
It is relatively easy to get a list of the party affiliation of registered voters. That name also appears on the outside of the ballot’s envelope.
So it would be easy (though felonious) for an unprincipled person (and we’re talking about Trump fans) to methodically go through the fraudulently collected ballots and throw away those from registered Democrats.
Unless voters were to check through WheresMyBallot, they would have no idea that their vote did not count.
If you put your ballot in one of these fake ballot boxes, I urge you to run, not walk, to the nearest computer and start tracking it: