The California Republican Party has admitted owning misleading drop boxes for mail-in ballots that have been placed in areas across the state.
On Sunday, the Orange County Register reported that election officials in California had received reports that legitimate-looking metal boxes that purported to be “official” ballot drop sites had been placed in Los Angeles, Orange County and Fresno.
More than 50 boxes labelled “Official Ballot Drop off Box” or “Ballot Drop Box,” were placed outside Republican Party offices, near churches and outside gun shops in California over the last two weeks, according to the New York Times.
In a statement on Sunday, California secretary of state Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said that the boxes had not been authorised by the state.
Mr Padilla said: “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.”
He added: “My office is coordinating with local officials to address the multiple reports of unauthorised ballot drop boxes. Californians should only use official ballot drop boxes that have been deployed and secured by their county elections office.”
Mr Padilla and attorney general Xavier Becerra then sent a cease-and-desist order to the party and ordered them to remove the drop boxes.
The officials also urged residents who may have used one of the sites to sign up to California’s vote tracking service, so that they could be sure their ballot had been counted.
On Sunday evening, the California Republican Party admitted that it was responsible for the various boxes being placed in conservative areas of the state, according to the Times.
The party defended itself on Twitter by alleging that the drop boxes are permitted under a 2016 law allowing California voters to designate someone to return their ballot on their behalf.
“If a congregation/business or other group provides the option to its parishioners/associates/or colleagues to drop off their ballot in a safe location, with people they trust, rather than handing it over to a stranger who knocks on their door - what is wrong with that?” the party tweeted.
On Monday, Hector Barajas, a spokesman for the California Republican Party, told the Times that the party would continue to place the boxes across the state, and would not explicitly identify them as Republican drops.
“There is nothing in any of the laws or regulations cited in that advisory that indicate private organisation drop boxes are not permitted,” the spokesman said.
He added that “the way Democrats wrote the law, if we wanted to use a Santa bag, we could,” but commented that “a locked heavy box seems a lot safer.”
Mr Padilla sent a memo to state officials on Sunday urging them to investigate unauthorised drop boxes to “guarantee the security and chain of custody of vote-by-mail”.
He also reminded California voters that there are multiple secure options for returning ballots in the state.
“Ballots can be returned by mail, to any in-person voting location, or to an official secure drop box,” Mr Padilla told the Register.
“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.”
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