Police in Torrance, California, announced on Monday that multiple agencies are investigating how and why hundreds of stolen vote-by-mail ballots for the upcoming gubernatorial recall election ended up in a parked car.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “Officers responding to a call Aug. 16 about a man who was passed out in a vehicle found more than 300 ballots,” other stolen mail, along with “a loaded gun, drugs, and other illicit materials.”
California voters will decide whether to oust Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom from office in a special recall election set for September 14. KTLA reported that the ballots were discovered the same day they were mailed out. FiveThirtyEight recently published an updated average of several polls that showed an average of 48.8% for keeping Newsom in his current role, while removing him is polling at an average of 47.6%. Practically every public survey indicates the question is within the margin of error.
Authorities said new election ballots would be distributed to affected registered voters.
The Torrance Police Department said its Special Investigations Division was working with the U.S. Postal Service and the Los Angeles County District Attorney Public Integrity Unit. In a statement, Torrance PD said they were “trying to figure out” what the unidentified suspect intended to do with the ballots and determine if the case involves election fraud.
Officers arrested the man last Monday for numerous weapons, narcotics, and forgery charges, and he has since been released on his own recognizance.
As The Times reported:
Officers were called about 10:45 p.m. to a 7-Eleven parking lot at 3735 Emerald St. for a report of a man passed out in a vehicle, said Sgt. Mark Ponegalek, a spokesman for the Torrance Police Department.
When officers searched the vehicle, they found a 9-millimeter handgun and stolen mail, including more than 300 ballots, Ponegalek said. In addition, the man had methamphetamine, Xanax pills, a scale, multiple California driver’s licenses and credit cards in other people’s names, police said.
Law enforcement does not believe the incident is part of a larger coordinated scheme, and the ballots had not been tampered with, according to a case update from the Torrance PD. The Los Angeles County Registrar’s office said there is no indication the items were stolen in an attempt to influence the recall election.
“They were still sealed in their envelope,” Sgt. Ponegalek told KCAL 9 News. “It wasn’t like the ballot had already been filled out and in the return envelope.”
Some recall proponents have speculated that the recovered ballots could be part of a fraudulent ballot harvesting operation, noting other mail thefts around the state. The controversial practice has recently been made illegal in Arizona and Florida but is lawful in California. It allows anyone to return completed ballots as long as certain procedures are followed.
Ponegalek said the stolen ballots were primarily addressed to voters in the cities of Lawndale and Compton.