California Republicans placed illegal drop boxes

Mail ballot irregularities plague US state election officials as demand surges because of COVID-19.

There have been growing reports of mailing errors by election authorities and contractors [Damian Dovarganes/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 during the weekend about the boxes in Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange 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 organisation to collect and return groups of ballots.

“Democrats only seem to object to ballot harvesting when someone else does it,” Barajas said.

Irregularities and mistakes are surfacing around the country as more voters than ever seek to vote by mail and demand for mail-in ballots has skyrocketed.

There have been growing reports of mailing errors by election authorities and contractors hired by local election boards to print ballots, stuff envelopes and mail them to voters.

In Ohio, nearly 50,000 voters received incorrect absentee ballots in Columbus, the capital of the state, officials said October 9, The Associated Press news agency reported.

With about 240,000 ballots mailed, that meant one in five voters received an incorrect ballot. The error happened on October 3 when someone changed a setting on a machine that places absentee ballots into mailing envelopes, officials said.

Some ballots had an incorrect congressional race, while others had the correct information but were sent to voters in a different precinct.

Printing and mailing of the replacement ballots were under way, the Franklin County Elections Board announced.

Franklin County encompasses the city of Columbus and the surrounding area with about 1.3 million residents.

It played a crucial role in swinging the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections to George W Bush.

Faulty ballots

In New York City, mail-in voting got off to a rocky start in September when a vendor sent out nearly 100,000 absentee ballots with the wrong names and addresses printed on the return envelopes.

The deluge of faulty ballots, sent to voters across Brooklyn, could result in ballots being voided if voters sign their own name on return envelopes bearing different names.

New York City Board of Elections Director Michael Ryan said all voters who got the bad ballots would receive new ones.

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman along with local legislators put sample ballots in a New York State Secure Ballot Dropbox [File: Mike Segar/Reuters]

In Michigan, in mid-September, more than 400 Michigan military and overseas ballots were downloaded from a state database Tuesday with the incorrect running mate for President Donald Trump, listing a Libertarian candidate in the place of Vice President Mike Pence, The Detroit News reported.

It’s not clear how many of the ballots were actually sent to voters before the error was discovered and corrected, according to Tracy Wimmer, spokeswoman for Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, told the newspaper on September 15.

In Virginia, there have been three instances of printers sending about 1,400 duplicate ballots out to voters in Richmond, the state capital, and in Fairfax County, the state’s most populous. Election officials have said voters will not be able to cast two ballots.

About 2,100 general election ballots that were misprinted without the US presidential race were mailed to Los Angeles County voters, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“While this has impacted a very small number of Los Angeles County voters … we nevertheless apologise to those affected by the mistake,” said Michael Sanchez, a spokesman for the office.

Ballots for the November 3 election are being mailed to all registered voters in California, including about 5.6 million in LA County.

Meanwhile, the controversy in California over unauthorised drop boxes surfaced after a regional field director for the state’s GOP in Orange County posted in a social media photo with one of the unofficial boxes and wearing a face-covering supporting the congressional campaign of Michelle Steel, a county supervisor who is challenging Democratic Representative Harley Rouda for his seat.

There were also reports about similar boxes at a church in the Los Angeles County community of Castaic and at various locations in Fresno County.

In Orange County, the district attorney is investigating at least two unofficial boxes in two different cities, said Kimberly Edds, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.

Neal Kelley, the county’s registrar of voters, said official drop boxes are clearly recognisable and carry official county elections logo.

He said it was not clear how many voters had used unofficial boxes but after receiving reports about them, he notified the state and district attorney’s office.

California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks criticised the placement of the unofficial ballot drop boxes.

“Sadly, this is par for the course from the Republican Party – well-versed in making it harder, not easier for Californians to vote,” he said in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies