A so-called “Trump Store” located at a Republican campaign headquarters in Newport Beach, California not only offers customers a wide array of “Make America Great Again” apparel and merchandise, but also lets customers exercise their right to vote by operating as an unofficial absentee ballot collection site, according to a Tuesday report from VICE News.
Undercover video shot at the location by an anonymous citizen and sent to the Orange County Registrar of Voters showed two women working at the store offering collect the videographer’s ballot and keep it locked in the store’s safe until the unofficial ballot box was brought back on the premises. The employees said the box was currently off-site because the already-collected ballots were being delivered.
According to the report, the email to the Registrar of Voters included a photograph of the physical ballot box which was no longer there when the person filming returned the next day.
“Then I returned today and asked the same question,” the person said. “The box was gone from the sales floor, but I was told by two people working that I could hand them my ballot because they have an official ballot box in the back of the store in a safe. I shot this video of them explaining.”
VICE News said it was able to obtain a copy of the video through a public records request.
“You do have a ballot box?” the videographer asks in the 96-second clip
“Yes,” responds one of the female employees. “It’s very safe,” adds the other, who says that she and all of her neighbors have already done it.
The videographer then says she was previously in the store and saw a physical ballot box, and one of the employees explains they do have one, but it’s “being delivered,” saying “they physically pick up the box and deliver it.”
“But if you come now and we don’t have [the ballot box], we lock it up in our safe,” the employee explained.
The process of collecting fully filled-out and signed ballots from voters and having a third-party transport them to an official polling or drop-off location is also known as “ballot harvesting.” And while ballot harvesting is legal in 26 states, President Donald Trump has publicly derided the practice, saying it would lead to “rampant fraud.”
As previously reported by Law&Crime, despite the president’s remarks, Republicans have been setting up unofficial drop-boxes in several California counties, with many located at gun stores.
“We take the ballots just like all the other places, and we don’t have an official ballot box, we have an unofficial ballot box,” Libby Huyck, the chair of the Newport Harbor Republican Women group which runs the store, told VICE News. “We put [the ballots] immediately into the safe.”
If Huyck’s explanation is accurate, however, it may mean that she and her group are in violation of California law—which allows voters to designate another person to deliver their ballot so long as that person also signs the ballot envelope and provides their relationship to the voter.
“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,” stated a memo from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s office. “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.”
[image via Vice New/YouTube screengrab]
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