ESCONDIDO, Calif. — A mail thief moving through a North County neighborhood snatched up ballots along with the other contents of mailboxes lining the street, leaving residents concerned ahead of Election Day.
David Sprouse’s surveillance cameras captured the man stealing his mail, and several of his neighbors’ as well, in the Summer Creek area of Escondido just before midnight Tuesday.
“It was a younger looking man, happened to come down the sidewalk. He was wearing a ball cap, face mask, gloves. (He) carefully opened up our mailbox and took out all of our mail,” Sprouse told FOX 5, sharing the video.
The thief proceeded to do the same thing to the mailbox next door.
The next morning, a resident on the block found a pile of mail from houses up and down the street — including some ballots — sitting on a car nearby, apparently discarded by the thief. She was able to return those parcels to their proper addresses.
Sprouse said it wasn’t until the following morning when he found out his mail was stolen and he checked the security recording. He says it was surprising this happened on the same day ballots were delivered, and that it was the first time in at least 10 years somebody has stolen his mail.
The security of voting by mail has never been more important than in 2020, when California is sending mail ballots to every registered voter in an attempt to keep people safe during the coronavirus pandemic.
While fact-checking organizations, including Associated Press, and election officials have found that voter fraud via mail ballots is rare, the rise in mail voting this year has prompted heightened logistical concerns.
San Diego County Registrar of Voters Michael Vu told FOX 5 what people should do if they fall victim to mail theft that includes their ballot.
“The neighbors in that respective neighborhood did the right thing and that is, contact our office. We track every single one of these mail ballots, so we have the ability to suspend voters’ originally-issued ballot to them and reissue a new one,” Vu explained.
He recommends voters contact the registrar’s office by Oct. 14 if they still haven’t received their ballot.
And as for the suspect in this recently committed crime: “There are two offenses going on here. Number on, you cannot steal anyone’s mail. That’s already a crime under the laws of the U.S. Postal Service. But then this is a federal election as well,” Vu said.
Because the Postal Service is a federal agency, any type of mail theft is a federal crime. While law enforcement has been informed about the thefts, no arrests had been made as of Thursday evening.