Safe and Secure Use of Official Ballot Drop Boxes

Statement of Jonathan Mehta Stein, Executive Director, California Common Cause

California will make ballot drop boxes more widely available in the November 2020 election than in any previous election.

California Common Cause supports this unprecedented expansion in voting access because voters in the the November 2020 election must contend with dual threats:

  1. The pandemic, which will make many uneasy with voting at a polling place or vote center.
  2. Decaying trust in the United States Postal Service and the vote-by-mail process, because of sustained but unsubstantiated attacks from loud voices in our national politics.

Ballot drop boxes solve both problems. They give voters a safe, secure method to return a vote-by-mail ballot that is controlled and operated by the county elections office, without requiring voters to visit an in-person site or use the mail.

California voters should use official ballot drop boxes with confidence. County-run ballot drop boxes are tamper-proof, are governed by a strict set of safety protocols, and are required to meet language and disability access requirements. Ballots picked up from ballot drop boxes are managed with tight chain-of-custody controls.

Voters should look up official, county-operated ballot drop boxes located near them: https://caearlyvoting.sos.ca.gov/ 

Unfortunately, the California Repubulican Party has created informal or unofficial ballot drop boxes that may confuse or mislead voters and create distrust in official ballot drop boxes.

Background and context are important. In 2016, California passed a law expanding voters’ ability to transmit their ballot to a third party for return. Previously, only a family or household member could return a voter’s vote-by-mail ballot. Under revised law, any third party trusted by the voter can return the voter’s vote-by-mail ballot, provided that the third party is not paid to do so on a per-ballot basis. A relevant example would be a resident of a care home, who can authorize a trusted staff member of the home to return the resident’s ballot on their behalf. The California GOP has argued that its informal drop boxes are legal under this expanded ballot return law.

More importantly for California voters, informal ballot collection sites that are disguised as official ballot drop boxes may trick community members who wish to return their ballot at an official ballot drop box. These unofficial “official” ballot drop boxes create confusion about and erode trust in voting procedures. Interfering with voters’ ability to cast their ballots is unlawful under California law.

California Common Cause encourages every California voter to:

Voters in California have several options for returning their ballots. In addition to using an official ballot drop box, voters can return their vote-by-mail ballots by mail or at any voting site on Election Day or in the early voting period. Voters can also vote in person, on Election Day or in the early voting period. County voter information guides and county elections websites should list in-person voting locations.