California Secretary of State Alex Padilla on Wednesday said that the number of vote-by-mail ballots that have been returned has already well-exceeded the number of ballots returned at this same point in the 2016 presidential election.

“As of this morning, over 1.5 million vote-by-mail ballots have already been returned by California voters,” Padilla wrote in a statement. “This is a massive increase compared to approximately 150,000 ballots returned at this same point in the 2016 General Election.”

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announces that he has issued cease-and-desist orders to the Republican Party for placing unofficial ballot collection boxes in several counties.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announces that he has issued cease-and-desist orders to the Republican Party for placing unofficial ballot collection boxes in several counties.
(State of California via AP)

A spokesman for Padilla’s office said both figures were based on 21 days before the General Election.

The high number of mail-in-ballots in California reflects nationwide trends as more Americans than ever before have turned to this option in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Due to the coronavirus and concerns about health safety at polling places, California for the first time mailed ballots for the Nov. 3 election to all active registered voters — more than 21 million people. The ballots come with pre-paid envelopes for voters to mail back, free of charge.

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Padilla said election officials knew the coronavirus pandemic would post “significant challenges” and that have prepared accordingly.

“More Californians voting early will mean a safer Election Day for everyone — voters, poll workers, and elections officials alike,” Padilla said. “By voting early, you help preserve in-person voting for those who need it—including our neighbors with disabilities, those who need language assistance, or those who need language assistance, or those who need access to Same Day Voter Registration.”

Controversy surfaced the weekend after state election officials received reports of the unofficial ballot collection boxes in Fresno, Los Angeles, and Orange counties.

California’s chief elections official on Monday ordered Republicans to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes from churches, gun shops and other locations. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned those behind the “vote tampering” could face prosecution.

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Republicans refused, saying they are merely taking advantage of California’s liberal ballot collection law that allows anyone to collect ballots from voters and deliver them to county election offices.

“As of right now, we’re going to continue our ballot harvesting program,” California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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