LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As the question of unofficial ballot drop boxes continues, Southland election officials described the official collection system. The official boxes are a lot more secure than you think, and almost half of mail-in ballots are being collected this way.
Speaking on "Eyewitness Newsmakers," Neal Kelley, the Orange County Registrar of Voters, described the drop boxes: "They are very large, a thousand pounds, quarter-inch steel, sturdy boxes ... They are designed with fire suppression systems as well as liquid damage protection. And so I'll tell you what, they're a lot more secure than a mailbox. And we have trusted mailboxes for decades and decades when it comes to vote-by-mail voting."
Whether voters know about the extra security, many are using the option as an alternative to the U.S. Mail.
"Voters are using them in high numbers - 45% of the ballots that we have had returned in L.A. County have come through our official drop boxes," said L.A. County Registrar-Recorder County Clerk Dean Logan.
Though it's still a question how many will opt for in-person voting, election night early returns should be a much broader sampling this Nov. 3 because so many voters are using mail-in ballots. When ballots arrive for processing, the first step is checking the voter signature with the signature that's on file.
The County Registrars explained the law now allowing the extra step. Watch the video above for more details.
The ballots can be opened and scanned, and the totals stay secret until polls close at 8 p.m.
Kelley said, "We're scanning ballots and capturing the digital images. But all that data is held in suspense, and we cannot actually tally it until election night, and good reason for that. So, nobody knows the outcome of the election until we post at 8:05 on election night."
Some unofficial California Republican Party mail ballot drop boxes have been removed, according to the elections officials. If the GOP continues to use unofficial drop boxes, they need to be properly staffed for signatures. The law allowing what's called ballot harvesting requires the third party to sign the envelope while the voter is watching.
The state attorney general issued a cease and desist order.
The L.A. Registrar said, "In addition to the state's cease and desist order to the state party, L.A. County sent a cease and desist order to those individual locations including churches," Logan explained, "We have received responses from some of those churches. Some of them claiming that they that they never had the boxes, others saying that they are no longer using them."
Kelley said, "The difficulty is with these unofficial boxes if they're unmanned or unattended. And in that case, you can't sign over your ballot to somebody or designate somebody to take the ballot. That's the problem."
The California secretary of state has a signup option for a voter to track their ballot though the process. Sign up here for "Where's My Ballot."
The program also included Sonja Diaz, founding director of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. She has a lengthy study on the importance of voters of color growing with every election.
Diaz says, "Our studies show that 30 percent of Americans that will cast a ballot on November third are non-white. This is really important and will only continue to increase for foreseeable generations."