REGION – Awaken Church is collecting its congregations’ ballots for the upcoming governor recall elections at each of its five San Diego campuses, but none of the church’s locations are designated ballot drop-off spots.
According to California law, voters can mail their ballot, return it in-person to an election center, put it in an official drop box operated by their county or give it to someone else to return it for them.
The law says people who return ballots for others must print their name on the ballot, state their relationship to the voter and sign it. And, they must return the ballot within three days of receiving it.
However, the ballots will still be counted even if the collector does not sign them or keeps them for longer than three days, as long as they are filled out correctly and returned by Election Day.
Awaken Church has outwardly encouraged members to “Vote yes to recall Gavin Newsom” during church events and on social media.
The church, though not a designated ballot drop-off location according to the county Registrar of Voters, is encouraging their congregation to bring their ballots to any Awaken Church campus on Sept. 5 and Sept. 12.
“Awaken Church is not a designated mail ballot drop-off location,” said Cynthia Paes from the San Diego Registrar of Voters. “We advise voters to return their voted ballot to an official site, either at a US Postal Service Collection box or one of more than 130 official mail ballot drop-off locations currently available around the County. These official options are the best way to keep voted mail ballots secure and ensure every legally cast ballot is counted.”
The practice, known as ballot-harvesting, is legal but has caused controversy in recent elections.
Currently, 24 states and Washington D.C. allow someone else to return a ballot for an individual, but some argue that it can lead to voter fraud or voter intimidation and influence.
In a 2020 report by House Ranking Member Rodney Davis and the Republican staff of the Committee in the 116th Congress, the committee argues that “this behavior can result in undue influence in the voting process and destroys the secret ballot, a long-held essential principle of American elections intended to protect voters.”
Before the passage of AB 1921, voters could designate a close relative or other person living in the same household to return their ballot.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, who authored AB 1921, called the previous policy a “well-meaning attempt at defining those who would be trusted by the voter.” But, she added, the restrictions previously in place provided “yet another obstacle for individuals attempting to vote, without any evidence-based justification against voter fraud.”
Critics also worry voters will confuse the boxes with the official ballot drop boxes operated by county election officials. Others argue that ballot harvesting can be safe and ethical as long as voters are aware that these third-party drop-off locations are not designated by the county.
It is unclear whether Awaken Church is clearly disclosing to its members that their drop-off sites are not designated by the County of San Diego. A recent Instagram post from the church does not indicate this.
Awaken Church could not be reached for comment.