California Dems and GOP Battle Over Unofficial Ballot Boxes as 1.5 Million Votes Already Cast Across State

California has broken a record for the number of mail-in votes cast amid a clash over unofficial ballot drop-off boxes set up by Republicans in the state.

More than 1 million mail-in ballots have already been returned, which is the most to have been collected at this point in any state election, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times.

An update from California's Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Twitter said 1,511,522 such ballots had been returned.

Among these record-breaking numbers, an argument has broken out over the collection of mail-in ballots by the GOP.

Unofficial ballot drop-off boxes, set up by Republicans, were reported in the Fresno, Orange and Los Angeles counties in the state.

Alex Padilla, secretary of state for California, suggested such boxes were illegal after they were flagged with his office.

"Our office has been made aware of unauthorized, non-official ballot drop boxes being used or having been proposed to be used at local political party offices, candidate headquarters, and churches throughout the state," Padilla, a Democrat, said.

UPDATE: 1,511,522 Vote-by-mail ballots have been returned in California! At this time in 2016, this number was around 150,000. Make sure you make a plan to #vote & #voteearly! Track your ballot here: #VoteSafeCA #VoteCalifornia

— CA SOS Vote (@CASOSvote) October 14, 2020

"Examples provided to our office include boxes or containers labeled simply as 'ballot drop boxes,' while others have been designated misleadingly as 'official ballot drop boxes.' State law does not authorize the use of unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes."

He said that setting up such boxes was within the power of "county election officials alone."

However, Tom Hiltachk, the California GOP's general counsel, has insisted the boxes do comply with laws in the state, referencing a "ballot harvesting" law which allows people to collect ballots from voters and return them to county officials on their behalf.

"The fact that it is a box does not make it illegal," Hiltachk said, according to the Associated Press. "If we have to use a bag, then we'll use a bag."

In terms of boxes having been labeled as official, he said this was perhaps down to "perhaps an overzealous volunteer" and that none of the GOP's receptacles said this.

Padilla, however, has disputed the boxes complying with the rules on ballot collection also.

"When a voter drops off a ballot in an unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail drop box, no designated 'person' would be signing, as required by state law. A person designated by the voter to return their vote-by-mail ballot envelope to the county elections official within the required time period by law, must provide their name, signature and relationship to the voter," Padilla said.

Other prominent Democrats in the state have also questioned the Republicans' actions.

The California GOP has insisted it intends to continue with its boxes.

"If he [Padilla] wants to take us to court, then we'll see him in court," California GOP spokesman Hector Barajas told ABC30.

In a previous statement, Barajas said that "Democrat anger is overblown."

Newsweek has contacted Padilla and the California GOP for further comment.

california ballot box
A pedestrian places a ballot in an official mail-in ballot drop box outside of the L.A. County Registrar’s office ahead of Election Day on October 14, in Norwalk, California. A dispute has broken out over boxes set up by the California GOP. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts