SANTA ROSA (CBS SF) — A Sonoma County official warned local residents Tuesday that if they want to ensure their vote is counted, they should use official drop boxes and not unofficial ballot boxes being promoted by some groups.

Deva Marie Proto, the Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar of Voters, sent a press release Tuesday alerting residents that certain groups were “promoting unofficial ballot drop boxes that are not affiliated with county elections offices.” Using these unauthorized ballot boxes is illegal.

Proto then guided locals to official boxes all across the country, including in front of the county’s Registrar of Voters Office. The office provided a map of where all 20 official ballot drop boxes are located.

“Depositing your ballot at an official drop box is very safe,” Proto said in the release. “Not only is each box physically secure, but we have strict chain of custody procedures in place requiring two ballot retrievers to unlock, count, document, and secure the ballots from each drop box on the team’s route.”

Proto also noted that law enforcement was regularly monitoring the official ballot boxes and that residents had reported “suspicious activity” that was perfectly normal.

“Some voters have expressed concern that the individuals taking ballots outside of our office are scammers,” Proto said. “This is absolutely not the case. They are official elections employees. The reason we are having them collect ballots outside is to minimize the number of people going in and out of our office during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Proto’s announcement came as reports of the state’s GOP distributing unofficial ballot boxes, despite orders from the state attorney general to stop. State party officials said they’d stop labelling its ballot drop boxes as “official” to avoid confusion with those used by county registrars, but may expand their use even as state officials say they’re illegal.

California’s top elections and law enforcement officials, both Democrats, on Monday said the boxes are illegal, threaten election security and must come down. Those behind the GOP effort could face criminal prosecution, Attorney General Xavier Becerra said.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert at University of California, Irvine, said he believes it’s unclear whether the unofficial drop boxes are legal and the courts will have to decide. But he doesn’t recommend them.

“I think it’s a very bad idea. They are not as secure as government drop boxes, which are put in well-lighted places and are tamper-proof,” Hasen said. “I worry about third parties interfering with these privately run drop boxes.”

California has sent every active registered voter a mail-in ballot for the Nov. 3 election and greatly reduced the number of polling places to limit crowds during the pandemic. President Donald Trump and other Republicans have raised questions about the security of mail-in voting, which has been used for many years but will be done at a record level around the country this election.

The California GOP drop boxes are a new version of “vote harvesting,” which is legal in California and allows party volunteers to collect multiple ballots and deliver them to election officials.

To report concerns over ballot boxes in Sonoma County, Proto asked residents to call (707) 565-6800 or email rov-info@sonoma-county.org. They can also visit the Registrar of Voters Office in person at 435 Fiscal Drive, Santa Rosa, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (excluding holidays).

© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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