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Voter fraud concerns mounting in tight California recall election

In social media posts and news outlets, proliferating reports detail alleged mail ballot theft, undelivered ballots, compromised vote privacy.

Updated: August 24, 2021 - 11:06pm

Facing the political fight of his life and sinking polls indicating he could lose in the Sept. 14 recall election, California Gov. Gavin Newsom is now plagued by rising concerns over alleged voter fraud after the Secretary of State's Office sent out mail ballots to 20 million voters.

Earlier in the year, the state legislature passed a measure to send out mail ballots to every registered voter whether they asked for one or not. Newsom's opponents argue this was done as a way to protect him from losing, suggesting the only way he could win was through fraud. 

Two legislators sued Newsom last year over an executive order he issued changing election procedure. The lawsuit is on appeal and expected to go to the U.S. Supreme Court. One of the plaintiffs, State Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-Rocklin), is running to replace Newsom.

"Legislators are as desperate as Newsom to stop the recall," Kiley said. "The one thing they respond to is the fear of losing their jobs. They know that when the governor loses his job, it will be a whole new ball game."

Blue check users on Twitter have been posting video and images of alleged ballot fraud. 

Trump administration acting Director of National Intelligence and California resident Richard Grenell asked if Newsom sent out suspiciously designed ballots on purpose, posting a video with a resident showing how small, round windows in the ballot envelopes may reveal "Yes" votes in favor of recall, making them easy to identify and discard by pro-Newsom ballot counters.  

In an article "fact-checking" Grenell,  the San Francisco Chronicle claimed, "No, California recall ballot was not designed to help Gavin Newsom and cheat Larry Elder," his Republican challenger leading in the polls.

Should Newsom lose the vote, he would be the second governor recalled in California history. The latest polls show him losing in the polls or statistically tied.

New York Times best-selling author and podcast host Adam Carolla tweeted out a video of what he described as "two women with a post office master key ... caught on camera stealing what appears to be California recall election ballots at an apartment complex in Valley Village."

"Are they just targeting ballots or stealing all mail," Carolla wrote. "What are your thoughts?"

Just The News reached out to Newsom's press office, which was quick to respond. While the governor's office couldn't comment, the spokesperson referred the questions to several people at Newsom's campaign and the Secretary of State's Office. The campaign did not respond to request for comment, but the Secretary of State's Office did. 

Regarding the "cases of mail stealing, we take any and all allegations of election crimes seriously," said Jenna Dresner, spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office. "We are aware of the cases you highlighted and have referred it to the appropriate federal and local law enforcement authorities to investigate its validity and prosecute as needed."

She referred to a statement issued by the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters in response to concerns raised about the hole punches in the envelopes. 

"The design of the ballot return envelope is not new and has been used for several election cycles — and the design is a recommended accessibility practice by civic design consultants," the registrar's office said. "The intent and purpose of the holes are two-fold, to assist with accessibility for low vision voters to locate where to sign the envelope and to ensure no ballots were missed and left in envelopes once our office has received and processed them."

 "[V]oters have control of how they place their ballot in the envelope," the county added, "and have multiple options for returning their ballots (mail, Ballot Drop Box, or at a Vote Center) to ensure secure and appropriate handling. Additionally, voters can track the status of their returned ballot through Ballot Trax — a free tracking application operated by the Secretary of State that will notify the voter when our office received the ballot and that it will be counted."

Janna Haynes, Sacramento County Voter Registration and Elections Office spokesperson, affirmed the position of Los Angeles County and said the holes help blind voters, even though the ballot is not printed in braille. 

"The feedback that we had received from our blind community, best practices from the Civic Center of Design, was that we needed to make some obvious indication on either side of the signature line," she said.

The other reason is to make sure no ballot goes uncounted, she said.

Grenell pushed back against California media outlets downplaying fraud concerns. "The California media have collectively dismissed concerns about the LA County ballots," he tweeted. "The fact is there are holes in the envelope that when the ballot is folded a certain way can expose those who voted to Recall Gavin. This is fact."

In another tweet, he wrote: "The fact that it's 'only LA County' is a ridiculous pushback. LA County is the largest in the state. It's also a ridiculous argument to say 'we always have these holes in the envelopes.' Why do the holes only expose the YES votes?"

Police probe ballots found in car

Meanwhile, authorities are investigating 300 unopened mail-in ballots found in a car parked outside of a convenience store in Torrance, Calif., along with a loaded gun and narcotics.

Torrance Police Department Sgt. Mark Ponegalek told local media that a suspect has been taken into custody and released on his own recognizance. 

"The election ballots, they were un-tampered with, unopened, a little over 300 of them found, primarily from addresses in Lawndale," Ponegalek said. "There were some from Compton. We're still trying to figure out where all these belonged to at this time, so we're working with the Los Angeles election office as well as the U.S. Postal Inspector."

The Los Angeles County Registrar's office confirmed the ballots were mailed to voters for the Newsom recall election, and that they were resending them. "There's nothing to indicate this was focused on the election," the registrar's office told KABC.

Torrance police, however, have yet to determine a motive. "A lot of people, including us, want to know how did these ballots get in that subject's car, and what was the intent of those ballots being in that subject's vehicle," Ponegalek said.

Concerns about mail fraud were raised after the 2020 election by the Election Integrity Project California (EIPCa), a nonpartisan group, which "works to ensure every lawfully cast vote" in the state is "accurately counted," according to its website. 

EIPCa purchased VoteCal voter registration and voting history files and after auditing them raised concerns about California's election system. The nonprofit published a list of questionable mail ballots sent out during the 2020 general election to deceased Californians and those no longer living in California. It also learned that 13 California counties have more registered voters than eligible citizens. 

EIPCa sent a letter to the Secretary of State's Office last year raising concerns about the number of registered voters compared to the number who voted in the 2020 election. It found that California had 1.8 million more registered voters than eligible citizens in the last election, and that nearly 124,000 more votes were counted in California's 2020 general election than voters recorded as voting in the election.

According to EIPCa's review, Los Angeles County has 206,728 registrants who have not voted or updated their registrations since November 2008 who are listed as "active" voters and could receive mail ballots in the mail.

 

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