Those unofficial “official” ballot boxes that have popped up in a few counties are an outgrowth of the legislative edict to allow for ballot harvesting, a practice fraught with potential mischief or abuse.  

The boxes marked “official” and set up by state and county Republican organizations may violate state law. The Republicans argue it is simply a form of ballot harvesting, collecting ballots as a convenience to voters, and turning them in in bunches. The Republicans argue that this is permitted by the law, AB 1921, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016. 

Republican spokesman Hector Barajas argued that the “state law allows organizations, volunteers or campaign workers to collect completed ballots and drop them off at polling places or election offices.” He said there are no specifications in the law on how the ballots are collected. 

The law signed by Brown allowed any person to return ballots to proper voting locations with the one prohibition that the ballot collectors cannot be compensated for their activity. Where the unofficial boxes may have trouble with the law is that it is required a designated person to return the ballots.* (See update below).  Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued a cease-and-desist order to Republican officials saying they are violating the law. 

Allowing for collections of multiple ballots has raised concerns about potential ballot manipulation or fraud. In fact, in 2018, North Carolina election results were thrown out when a Republican campaign operative was accused of manipulating vote returns when harvesting ballots.  

Orange County Republicans feel the loss of many seats in 2018 was a result of ballot harvesting. At the time, Republican Committeeman Shawn Steel wrote an op-ed in the Orange County Register, republished here   in which he concluded, “Our party can either eat sour grapes or adopt new campaign tactics to account for these changes.”

The new ballot boxes are clearly a campaign tactic that is brought on by the change in the law and how to use it. 

Or some might say, misuse it

Prior to Brown signing the new law, a voter who was not able to deliver his or her own ballot had multiple choices for a designated person to return that voter’s individual ballot: a spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, brother, sister, or person residing in the same household as the voter. There seemed little complaint about the old system. Voters had ample opportunity to participate in an election. 

But the law was changed, and ballot harvesting, with its possibility of manipulation entered the political arena. As this column suggested previously, ballot harvesting opened the door to potential mischief. 

And now that mischief has arrived in response to a law designed to give a political advantage to one side. The best solution for avoiding consequences related to ballot harvesting is to repeal the law. 

(UPDATE: The issue raised in the piece that a designated person must sign a returned ballot was changed by legislation a couple of years later. AB 306 by Asm. Lorena Gonzalez specifies that a ballot will not be disqualified solely because the person authorized to return it did not provide on the identification envelope his or her name, relationship to the voter, or signature.)