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California Secretary Of State On How His State Is Preparing For Election Day


Early voting is underway in California. So far, the state has more than a million mail-in ballots. That's a record number that grows each day. The state says it is prepared. Californians can drop off ballots during this early voting period and vote on Election Day safely and without disruption. But some worry that poll watching, which President Trump has encouraged his supporters to do, may discourage some people from voting.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla joins us now from Los Angeles. Secretary of State Padilla, thanks so much for being with us.

ALEX PADILLA: Good morning, Scott. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Isn't poll watching, sir, supposed to encourage people of all parties that the voting is going on fairly?

PADILLA: Look; poll watching or poll observation, as we call it in California, is certainly allowed. But I think anything that crosses the line into potential harassment or intimidation of individuals seeking to exercise their right to vote is not only problematic, it is a violation of state law.

SIMON: Well, what qualifies as harassment or intimidation? And let me give you a for-instance. What if a poll watcher said something like, I - can you demonstrate to me that you're legally registered?

PADILLA: A poll watcher is not a poll worker. So anything that crosses the line into questioning the ability of a voter or the eligibility of a voter to cast their ballot is exactly that - crossing the line.

And, look; just want to make sure that we are establishing the right context here. We hear chatter about potential harassment, intimidation, protests around voting locations every election. It's certainly heightened, given the presidential contest and the current political climate. But if history is any indicator, the vast majority of Californians are going to be able to exercise their right to vote without any problems, and, frankly, the vast majority by mail this go-around.

SIMON: As I don't have to tell you, California, in recent years, has customarily been voting Democratic in presidential elections. But there are controversial proposals on the ballots in some places of the state and competitive congressional races, certainly, all over the state. Are you particularly prepared in those areas?

PADILLA: Absolutely. To your point, there's either local contests, House races, legislative races, maybe a contested city council or school board race anywhere in California. So we have to make sure that the process is as smooth and positive as possible for all voters in the state. And if early returns are any indicator, we're looking at a very robust turnout, which is great.

SIMON: What are you prepared to do if there are poll workers who feel that the poll watching is getting too aggressive?

PADILLA: So the poll workers are trained to handle and de-escalate situations if the need arises, which happens, but very, very rarely. We do have a statewide voter hotline that any voter can call in to to report anything they might have experienced, anything they're observing. We have the protocols in place to immediately respond to any incident, along with local authorities, to defuse situations. The most important thing on and before Election Day is the right for any eligible citizen to register and cast their ballot.

SIMON: The California Republican Party now says that it will not comply with an order yet to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes that it distributed in four areas of the state. I believe the head of the Republican Party said, see you in court. They insist these unofficial drop boxes are secure. They're overseen. They are not labeled as official. And they are there simply to make it easier for people to cast their ballots, which is the business you're in, too. So what's your concern?

PADILLA: You know, the problem with the boxes were multiple. First of all, they were misrepresented as official drop boxes when state law only authorizes counties to install ballot drop boxes for voters to return their ballots. And that's important because we have specific requirements on those ballot boxes in terms of the integrity of their construction, installation, the retrieval of ballots by official county elections personnel, et cetera. Ballot collection is allowed in California, but also under strict rules.

If a voter decides they need assistance in returning their ballot, they can decide for themselves who they trust to return their ballot for them, but those individuals must also sign the outside of the vote-by-mail envelope so we can obtain that chain of custody. And that was lost with these fake ballot boxes that were in use in the past.

So the good news is this last week, it does look that most, if not all, of the ballot boxes in question from last week have been removed and are no longer being utilized. And we're, you know, entertaining any legal options necessary to ensure that misrepresentation of drop boxes no longer continues in the final stretch of this campaign.

SIMON: California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

PADILLA: Thank you. Continue to stay safe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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