Nervous voters in California are walking their mail-in ballots into elections departments so they can personally hand them to an election official.
They want to be 100 percent certain their ballot gets counted.
“It feels like every voter I talk to is on edge thinking for some reason their ballot might not count,” said Melinda Dubroff, registrar of voters in San Joaquin County.
Every qualified ballot will be counted and there’s really no need to worry once a ballot is mailed or placed in an official drop box, elections officials say. The state’s safety protocol for drop boxes is rigorous.
But voters have reason for anxiety.
For months, without any evidence, President Trump has criticized vote-by-mail as rife with fraud, especially in states like California, which mailed every voter a ballot to ensure a safe pandemic voting opportunity.
Then postal service delivery slowed because of budget cuts, sparking concern that mail-in ballots wouldn’t reach county offices in time to be counted.
Concerns became more local this month when the California Republican Party placed unsecured and unofficial ballot drop boxes at locations around Orange, Los Angeles, and Fresno counties. After the GOP ignored an initial cease-and-desist letter from California’s secretary of state, Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Tuesday took the matter to court to force party officials to detail box locations.
The state’s concern? The unofficial drop boxes don’t meet strict rules designed to protect every voter’s ballot.
By law, official drop boxes must be made of durable material and, if unstaffed and outdoors, “securely fastened.” Most counties bolt them to concrete. The drop slot is purposely narrow to prevent water from getting in. Vandalism is rare.
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Even with the new ballot tracking feature, plenty of California voters are playing it ultra safe by voting early and hand delivering their ballots.
Retired machinist Jack Van Rooy, 76, of Visalia, placed his ballot envelope into the drop box in the lobby of the Tulare County elections department. He could have used the drive-through drop box in front but chose to come inside.
“I want to make sure my vote gets counted,” he said. “I don’t want my vote winding up in a dumpster somewhere.”
He cited news stories about several military ballots cast for Donald Trump in 2016 that were found in a wastebasket in Pennsylvania (a county employee made an error and was fired, officials said) and a report in late September about a postal worker in New Jersey being arrested for dumping mail including ballots.
For others, news stories about the California Republican Party putting out its own drop boxes fueled a desire to go to the elections office.
“With these boxes going up that aren’t right, I’m not taking any chances,” said legal secretary Vira Minjares, 66, of Tulare.
The “extracurricular activity” by the state GOP involving its own drop boxes is “unfortunate,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a voter advocacy group.
“Those of us in the election field who want to help voters vote with confidence are having to explain how to do so safely,” she said. But, she added in response to a question, “I don’t have the sense that the intent (of the state Republican Party) would be to harvest out ballots.”
Republican party officials have said all ballots they collect will be delivered safely to the elections office, and that their boxes are legally allowed.
John Tuteur, Napa County registrar of voters, blames President Trump for voters thinking they need to hand deliver ballots.
“There’s a lot of people who want to hand their ballot to someone because of the controversy of what the president did to the post office,” he said. “Because of the paranoia, people are bringing their ballots to us even though there’s a drop-off box.”
In Santa Clara County, “a lot (of people) are trying to bring in their mail-in ballots,” said public communications specialist Ryan Aralar. (Full Story)