Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said Monday his office will investigate counterfeit ballot collection boxes placed in at least two Orange County cities.
Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley told City News Service that his staff was alerted over the weekend through social media posts about the unauthorized ballot collection boxes and immediately began investigating.
“Sounds like maybe half a dozen, but I don’t know for sure,” Kelley said of the number of boxes recovered. “We had a report of one in Seal Beach that was a cardboard box.”
Kelley added, “The good news is we got the word out and there was a rapid response to it all.”
Spitzer said his office was alerted on Sunday.
“We have an open investigation,” Spitzer told CNS. “It was given to us yesterday by Neal Kelley and I can’t comment on a pending investigation, but we’re acknowledging it. My office is charged with investigating all allegations of fraud and elections violations and obviously our biggest concern is voter fraud and voter intimidation and protecting the vote so we’ll look at this scenario.”
Spitzer added, “I don’t really know what the evidence is at this point, because we literally got it yesterday, but we have boots on the ground (investigating).”
In one social media post, a supporter of Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Michelle Steel’s congressional campaign is seen touting the use of an unauthorized ballot collection box.
Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Newport Beach, issued a statement slamming his GOP challenger in the 48th Congressional District race.
“Michelle Steel is proving, yet again, that she is the most corrupt politician in Orange County,” Rouda said in a statement released Monday morning. “Orange County deserves a leader who will protect the integrity of our elections, not orchestrate voter fraud. This craven, illegal, and criminal behavior is disqualifying.”
Steel’s campaign accused Rouda of attempting to “suppress the vote.”
“Harley Rouda is desperate to divert attention from the fact that he has recently been exposed for cutting his own employee’s health care and retirement accounts and pushing higher taxes on Orange County families even though he doesn’t pay his own,” Steel said in a statement. “Now he wants to suppress the vote of honest churchgoers in Orange County. I don’t condone any unofficial means of collecting ballots. Every vote counts, and we must ensure ballots are turned in and counted responsibly and legally.”
Spitzer said his investigators will consider whether the use of the ballot boxes was intentionally fraudulent or just ignorance of the law, which prohibits the unauthorized ballot boxes.
“The question is what’s the intent?” Spitzer said. “Why did someone do it? What’s the intent behind it? Were they up to mischief?”
Spitzer pointed out, “You have to designate someone to return your ballot, so you can’t just throw them in a box.”
Last Monday, Spitzer, Kelley and Secretary of State Alex Padilla held a news conference to reassure voters they will do everything they can to combat vote fraud.
“Every eligible vote is going to be counted and nothing can get in the way of an eligible voter’s right to vote,” Spitzer said.
Kelley’s office has trained investigators from the District Attorney’s Office and the investigators are in turn training all law enforcement officers in the county to be on the lookout for electioneering or other fraud at the polls. Their job will be to “keep the peace until an election expert can get there” and sort through any allegations, Spitzer said.
Kelley said police officers have been issued pocket cards with the criminal codes for election crimes.
“We created a pocket card in 2018 for patrol officers to carry around,” Kelley said. “They don’t respond to election crime every day of the week, so it was super popular. We’re doing it again for this election.”
Kelley said the pocket cards are helpful if, for instance, someone impersonates an election official.
“That’s an obscure crime so they can pull that out and see that it is actually a crime,” Kelley said. “And then we can respond and interface with law enforcement and assist and bring in the District Attorney if necessary.”
Spitzer declined to say how many ballot boxes were found, just saying it was “several,” and that they were found in two Orange County cities.
Kelley said any voter concerned about whether they are dropping their votes off in an authorized collection box can go to ocvote/options and find locations where bona fide ballot boxes are placed.
“They are large, thousand-pound boxes that are white with yellow gold trim that says `official drop box’ and has the county seal and election logo,” Kelley said. “You can’t miss them.”
The collection boxes are popular this year, Kelley said.
“Tens of thousands of voters have been using those boxes,” Kelley said of the legitimate ones.
“We’re 450% ahead of this same point in 2016,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. A couple of days after mailing the ballots they’re being returned. That’s unheard of.”
Kelley reiterated what he said last week — that election fraud won’t be shrugged off.
“I’m not going to tolerate rule breaking or issues that give the appearance of an unfair process,” Kelley said. “My job is to make sure it’s a fair election. That’s why I responded immediately over the weekend. I’m not going to mess around with it.”