Ballot drop boxes removed from outside California churches after being labeled ‘unauthorized’

Large boxes of envelopes are seen as absentee ballot election workers stuff ballot applications at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 4, 2020.
Large boxes of envelopes are seen as absentee ballot election workers stuff ballot applications at the Mecklenburg County Board of Elections office in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 4, 2020. | LOGAN CYRUS/AFP via Getty Images

California officials have been removing unofficial ballot drop boxes from outside multiple locations, including a couple of churches, according to a recent report by The Signal.

Recently, the California GOP distributed ballot drop boxes at multiple locations, among them Freedom’s Way Baptist Church in Castaic and Grace Baptist Church of Santa Clarita.

Emily Alvarenga of The Signal, a Santa Clarita-based news publication, reported Monday about officials removing the metal boxes, declaring them unauthorized.

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California Secretary of State Alex Padilla sent a memo out to all county clerks and registrars of voters on Sunday explaining that “providing unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes is prohibited by state law.”

“Our office has been made aware of unauthorized, non-official ballot drop boxes being used or having been proposed to be used at local political party offices, candidate headquarters, and churches throughout the state,” wrote Padilla.

“State law does not authorize the use of unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes. County elections officials alone have the authority to designate the location, hours of operation, and number of drop boxes in the county …”

Padilla added that county officials “have the responsibility for ensuring compliance with all applicable statutes and regulations that guarantee the security and chain of custody of vote-by-mail ballots deposited.”

Padilla quoted from Elections Code section 3025(a)(1), which defined an acceptable “vote-by-mail ballot drop box” as one that is “a secure receptacle established by a county or city and county elections official.”

Grace Baptist Executive Pastor Joe Keller said the drop box was provided by the California GOP and that his church had approved of it as a way to help encourage participation in the election.

“Historically here at Grace Baptist Church, we want to be a place that serves the community, and so this opportunity came for us to give an additional opportunity for a nonpartisan box so that people could drop off their ballots,” he said, as reported by The Signal.

“… once we realized that there could be some concern about it, we removed it immediately and called the California GOP to come and pick it up.”

The California GOP has defended the usage of the drop boxes, pointing out in a statement posted to Twitter that the practice of ballot harvesting is legal in the state.

“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,” wrote California GOP spokesperson Hector Barajas.

“The Democrat anger is overblown when state law allows organizations, volunteers or campaign workers to collect completed ballots and drop them off at polling places or election offices.”

There has been much debate on voters being able to mail in their ballots as a result of concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown complications.

Questions over the veracity of the mail-in ballot system became a focal point during the first debate between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic opponent Joe Biden.

Biden defended widespread use of mail-in ballots, citing administration officials who said there “is no evidence at all that mail-in ballots are a source of being manipulated and cheating.”

“There are going to be millions of people because of COVID that are going to be voting by mail-in ballots,” said Biden at the contentious debate last month.

Trump replied by citing examples of mail-in ballots being tampered with, including a reported incident in Pennsylvania where ballots cast for Trump by military personnel were discarded. 

He differentiated between a “solicited ballot” like the absentee ballot he will use to vote as a resident of Florida and the millions of “unsolicited ballots” being sent all over the country.

“As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster,” said the president. “There’s fraud … this is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen.”

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