This week’s question comes from Nancy B. who asks: I have read that there are unofficial ballot drop boxes. How do you know if a ballot drop box is real? And what do I do if I find out later that I dropped my ballot off at the wrong ballot drop box?
Dear Nancy: Great question. You can check online to see the locations of official drop-off boxes in your area at caearlyvoting.sos.ca.gov. The California Secretary of State lists all the official ballot drop-off locations in your area. You can search in any city or county, or search for all drop-off locations within 10 miles of a particular address.
The Secretary of State also lists all services provided at that location (many ballot drop-off locations are also locations for early voting) and the hours during which the services are provided. You may have better luck searching using a specific address. When I searched with my zip code, only four different ballot drop-off locations popped up. When I searched by my address, I found 82 locations within 10 miles of my address (and the first 10 options were all closer to my location than the four that appeared when I searched my zip code.)
The ballot drop-off locations listed online are updated frequently in the event there is a new official ballot drop-off location.
If you do not see a ballot drop box that you know of on the Secretary of State website, it is likely an unofficial, unauthorized drop box. If you drop your ballot in one of the unofficial, unauthorized ballot drop-off locations, there is no guarantee that your ballot will be counted. If you have already placed your ballot in an unofficial, unauthorized drop box, and you are concerned whether your vote will be counted, you have a few different options.
You should first check to see if your ballot has already been accepted. You can check this on BallotTrax at california.ballottrax.net by signing up for a free account that shows the status of your ballot. You do not need to sign up prior to dropping your ballot off to receive updates. BallotTrax has your ballot information already. The website updates quickly and provides updates at different stages. For example, BallotTrax will tell you when your ballot is, “inbound,” and the postal service has indicated that it has your ballot and is returning it to your county elections office.
The website also will tell you when your ballot has been received by county election officials and when county election officials have accepted your ballot. If you dropped your ballot off in an unofficial ballot drop-off location more than a week ago, and the website still does not reflect that the postal service is returning your ballot to county officials, it may be cause for concern.
If BallotTrax does not show that your ballot is in route to county officials, and you dropped off your ballot, you should contact your county election officials to ask what they prefer you do, as procedures for a lost ballot vary from county to county.
Given we are already less than three weeks away from Election Day, the deadline will have likely passed to receive a new ballot in the mail. Instead, your county will likely ask you to vote via provisional ballot at your local polling place. Provisional ballots are used in situations where a person’s voting status has not been verified for some reason. They are carefully audited to make sure a person casting a provisional ballot is not voting for a second time. Provisional ballots are helpful in situations such as this one where a person is unsure their vote will be counted and wants to be sure they voted.
Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Casey Hultin is an associate attorney based in our San Francisco office. Email questions and topics for future articles to: firstname.lastname@example.org.