This tumultuous year has proven the essential nature of nonpartisan local news. Every day we bring you news critical to staying informed and active in the community. Join us with a tax-deductible donation.

The Orange County District Attorney and Registrar of Voters announced on Tuesday afternoon they were investigating an allegedly fraudulent vote center in Westminster, after the location was filmed and posted to social media that same day. 

“We are aware and are onsite with the OCDA.  Investigation is underway and nothing further to report at this time,” said Neal Kelley, Orange County’s Registrar of Voters, in a text message late on Tuesday. 

Under state law, campaigns and others in California are allowed to accept ballots from people as long as they commit to deliver them to the local Registrar of Voters within 72 hours. 

The practice has generated some controversy, as on Tuesday afternoon. 

Two videos, first posted to Instagram around noon, showed a set of canopies in front of Westminster City Councilwoman Kimberly Ho’s skin care products store on Beach Blvd, and what appeared to be a hand-drawn sign advertising the site as a voting site and police officers on scene. 

Voice of OC was also alerted to the situation through a partnership with national nonprofit newsroom ProPublica, which is operating Electionland, an election night watch effort for suspicious activity. 

There are campaign signs outside the Beach Boulevard store for County Supervisor Michelle Steel, who is running for Congress alongside Trump and Supervisor Andrew Do, who is seeking re-election. 

A sign in the video posted on Instagram read “Vote here.” 

Ho’s skin care store is not on the Registrar of Voters’ official list of vote centers.

Ho did not respond to a call for comment. 

At one point, the person filming follows two people walking around the building — wearing shirts with Steel’s campaign logo on them — and asks them what was inside a box they were carrying. The video then looks inside the box, showing what appeared to be torn up official mail-in ballot envelopes.

People on social media quickly attacked the location as a “fake” voting center.

Neither Steel, nor her campaign staff, returned calls seeking comment. 

Orange County DA and Registrar of Voter officials responded to the site after a number of Democratic activists reached out after visiting the location

Owan Jones was part of that group of activists on site. He said they had been driving around looking for situations like this. They were on their way to Huntington Beach when they spotted the setup outside Ho’s store, which they noted was near an actual official vote center on the same street but was odd because they saw campaign signs right outside of it. 

“We were traveling around Orange County, keeping an eye out for weird things like this because we had heard about the fake drop off boxes,” Jones said, who works with Clarity OC, a coalition of local activists. 

The issue of ballot harvesting and unofficial voting centers across California has seen its share of controversy this election cycle. 

Read: Santana: Amidst Record Voter Turnout, OC DA Probes His Own Party Over Ballot Harvesting

Earlier this year, State Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued subpoenas to Republican leaders after concerns were raised about GOP efforts across the state to ballot harvest using their own boxes to transport ballots to local registrars of voters. 

That issue went viral after a tweet – since deleted – showed a GOP official, Jordan Tygh, ironically tweeting support for Steel, placing a ballot into an unofficial box with an official-looking ballot box sign at a Newport Beach event.

GOP officials insist their efforts didn’t violate state law.

Nonetheless, local District Attorney Todd Spitzer – himself a member of the OC GOP – later announced he was investigating that issue as well. 

State GOP officials, who are deeply critical of the concept of ballot harvesting said their own issues with compliance indicate deep problems with outsourcing ballot delivery in such ways as well as the politicization of enforcement of such standards. 

State Republican officials ultimately said they would stop using the sign, “official” on their ballot boxes at unofficial events and also said they would ensure that the people on shift while accepting and signing for ballots are the same ones that deliver them to the local Registrar of Voters.

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member at Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at bpho@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @photherecord.

Join the conversation: In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join our Facebook discussion. Message us via our website or staff page. Send us a secure tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.