SANTA ANA (CBSLA/AP) – California's Republican Party on Monday acknowledged owning unofficial ballot drop boxes that state election officials said are illegal.
California election officials received reports over the weekend about the boxes in Los Angeles, Orange, and Fresno counties.
On Sunday, the secretary of state issued a memo telling county registrars the boxes were illegal and that ballots must be mailed or brought to official voting locations.
"In short, providing unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes is prohibited by state law," the memo said.
State GOP spokesman Hector Barajas said that the party owns the boxes. He declined to comment on how many exist and where they are located. Barajas said the state's law governing so-called ballot harvesting allows an organization to collect and return groups of ballots.
Earlier Monday, prosecutors in Orange County said they would investigate the use of unauthorized ballot drop boxes in at least two local cities.
The cities in question and the exact location of the alleged boxes were not disclosed. Investigators will turn their results in for a "legal review" to determine whether criminal charges will be filed, the Orange County District Attorney's Office said Monday.
The O.C. Registrar of Voters also said Monday that it was aware of the unauthorized boxes. It noted that official drop boxes are clearly marked with the O.C. Elections logo and the O.C. seal.
"The residents of Orange County can rest assured that the District Attorney's Office and the Registrar of Voters have assembled an elite team dedicated to protecting your right to vote," DA Todd Spitzer said in a statement. "Anyone who chooses to violate any section of the election code in Orange County and interfere with the sanctity of the election will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
"This is really serious business because if you are acting as an unauthorized agent for the registrar of voters in the state of California, that could be considered a felony," Spitzer told CBS2/KCAL9.
Spitzer said his office will be looking into the incident to ensure there was no voter fraud committed.
All this comes after CBSLA reported over the weekend that Freedom's Way Baptist Church in Castaic put out a ballot drop box and incorrectly labeled it as "official," even though it was not.
A similar such drop box also popped up outside Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita. However, it was not marked as an official voting drop box location.
The L.A. County Registrar's Office is investigating both incidents. The Freedom's Way drop box has since been removed.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued a memo stating that his office was aware of several similar cases statewide and said that state law does not authorize the use of unauthorized, nonofficial vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes.
A cease and desist order was sent to Republican organizations in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties to remove unauthorized ballots, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned of civil or criminal punishment for those who violate the order.
"We're getting some disturbing reports that perhaps some Republican Party officials in the state where these fake drop boxes have been situated may not be prepared or willing to remove these drop boxes,'' Becerra said." We hope the message goes out loud and clear that anyone who improperly solicits or manages a citizen's vote is subject to prosecution for engaging in activities that are against the law in the state of California. I'm trying to be careful how I say this but the reports we're hearing are disturbing.''
In response to the reports, the California GOP issued this statement: "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," according to a statement from the California Republican Party. "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."
"If Democrats are so concerned with ballot harvesting, they are the ones who wrote the legislation, voted for it, and (former) Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law," the statement added.
The GOP is also accusing the Secretary of State of deflecting from his non-budgeted $35 million Get Out The Vote campaign with a Team Biden public relations firm.
In 2016, Brown signed into a law a change in the state election code that allows any person to collect a mail-in ballot from voters and turn in the mail ballot to a polling place or registrar's office.
If you cannot drive or walk to an official drop site for the 2020 Election, or if you're out of town, the law says you can legally give your marked, signed and sealed ballot to anyone that you trust to bring to a drop box or polling place.
(Copyright 2020 CBS Corp. The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.)
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