Did California Republicans Set Up Fake Ballot Drop Boxes?

Election authorities said unauthorized drop-boxes for mail-in ballots violate state law.

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The California Republican Party set up unauthorized drop-boxes for mail-in ballots.


California Republicans in the fall of 2020 reportedly set up their own drop-off boxes for voters to leave mail-in ballots for the upcoming November general election. 

Jordan Tygh, a regional field director for the California GOP, posted on Oct. 8, 2020, a picture of himself posing with thumbs up in front of one of the drop-boxes on Twitter, along with a message encouraging other voters to contact him for details on the drop-box locations. The post has since been deleted, but a cached version was still available as of this writing:

The online fury over Tygh’s post and the drop-boxes prompted Snopes readers to ask whether it was true that the California Republicans had installed unofficial mail-in ballot drop-boxes. (And as Tygh’s post indicates, some of them were misleadingly labeled “official.”)

It is true — the California GOP has acknowledged that it owns the boxes. And the California secretary of state announced such unauthorized ballot drop-boxes are illegal.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, during an Oct. 12 news conference, said multiple fake drop-boxes had been installed in Fresno, Los Angeles, and Orange counties. Padilla’s office and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued cease-and-desist letters to state and county Republican parties.

Ballot collection, sometimes referred to as “ballot harvesting,” is the practice of a voter designating a third party to deliver a mail-in ballot to election officials. It’s legal in many states, including California.

What is not legal, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, is posing as an election officer and “handling, counting, or canvassing of any ballots” by anyone who isn’t an election officer. That includes setting up unofficial ballot-collection boxes. Violating the law is a felony that could result in two to four years in prison, if a person is convicted.

Election officials ordered California Republicans to remove the unauthorized boxes by Oct. 15, with Becerra warning that his office would take further legal action if needed.

“Without equivocation,” the fake drop boxes set up by California Republicans “are illegal,” Becerra stated.

“If you participate in those activities, you are knowingly engaging in activity that is against the law,” Becerra said during the news conference. “So please understand what you are doing.”

California voters can look up the location of official ballot drop-box locations on the secretary of state’s website. The official drop-boxes are bright yellow and are secured, locked, and monitored round the clock.

A judge on Oct. 21 rejected state officials’ efforts to get California Republicans to comply with a subpoena seeking information about the boxes and the voters who had used them. The GOP meanwhile blamed the fake “official” labels on some of the boxes as the work of “overzealous” volunteers and stated those labels had been replaced.

In a press conference held Oct. 16, Padilla and Becerra told reporters that the California GOP had, “agreed not to place unauthorized ballot drop boxes outdoors, leave drop boxes unattended or present them as official, the party said it will continue to accept ballots delivered by voters to local party offices and secure them in boxes attended by staff or volunteers,” according to NPR.

Recent Updates
  1. Updated to note that a judge rejected an attempt by state authorities to get the California GOP to comply with a subpoena seeking information about the boxes, and that state Republicans replaced signs on boxes that said "official."
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Shepherd, Katie. “California GOP Installed Unofficial Ballot Drop-Off Boxes. State Officials Say They’re Illegal.”
  Washington Post. 12 October 2020.

Gardner, Amy. “‘We Got Our Clocks Cleaned’: GOP Quietly Works to Expand Ballot Harvesting in California While Criticizing Democrats for the Practice.”
  Washington Post. 14 March 2019.

Associated Press. “California GOP Says It Owns Unofficial Ballot Drop Boxes.”
  12 October 2020.

Associated Press. “California Orders GOP to Remove Unofficial Ballot Boxes.”
  13 October 2020.

Myers, John. “Judge Rejects California Attorney General’s Effort to Investigate GOP Ballot Boxes.”
  Los Angeles Times. 21 October 2020.

Sprunt, Barbara, et al. “California Eases Off Legal Threats Over GOP Unauthorized Ballot Drop Boxes.”
  NPR. 16 October 2020.