State Republican Party officials Wednesday rejected state Secretary of State Alex Padilla’s cease-and-desist order to stop using unauthorized ballot drop-off boxes that were found recently in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties.
On Monday, Padilla issued the order following complaints about social media posts from Republicans advertising the use of the drop-off boxes, including one supporter of Michelle Steel, the Orange County Board of Supervisors chairwoman who is running against Rep. Harley Rouda, D-Newport Beach. Padilla gave the Republicans a deadline of Thursday.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer announced on Monday his office would investigate the complaints about the ballot boxes. Attorney General Xavier Becerra indicated that activists using the boxes to collect ballots faced criminal or civil punishment.
At issue is a new law that allows voters to authorize someone to deliver their vote-by-mail ballot to an elections office or place them in an official vote center box.
Padilla said the official vote center boxes are uniquely outfitted to secure ballots, unlike the unofficial ones utilized by Republicans. Padilla also said a deliverer of a ballot must sign the outside of the envelope.
Republicans, however, said their drop-off boxes serve the same purpose as so-called ballot harvesting in which volunteers deliver ballots for voters.
Attorneys representing the state party said in a letter to Padilla issued on Wednesday the new law did away with the requirement of a signature from a conveyor of a ballot.
Attorney Thomas W. Hiltachk said in the letter to Padilla that the drop-off boxes are a “perfect example of what you `proudly’ stated to be permissible just last year. In this case, voters have decided, for themselves, that they trust the staff and volunteers at their local political party headquarters, or their church, or a business that they patronize, to securely deliver their completed VBM ballot to the appropriate election official.”
Hiltachk said “identical programs were conducted without incident or objection from your office by the California Republican Party and other civic-minded organizations in connection with the 2020 primary election.”
Hiltachk did concede that some of the boxes in question should not have had signs on them advertising them as “official” drop-off centers and that going forward those designations would be removed.
Hiltachk claimed that Rouda’s campaign has a similar program in place.
Rouda, however, in a news conference Wednesday, called the move to use the unofficial ballot boxes as “heinous and illegal.”
Rouda said it was “curious behavior” for Republicans, who he said have been campaigning on a “law and order” theme.
Rouda said the practice of ballot harvesting was a way for seniors or other disabled voters having difficulty getting to the polls or a mail center to cast a ballot.
“There is a prompt that requires you to print the person delivering the ballot and a signature of the person delivering the ballot,” Rouda said, holding up a ballot envelope.
“The California Republican Party and my opponent and her team and one involved in this committed fraud,” Rouda said. “It’s plain and simple they impersonated an official drop-off box.”
Rouda added that the party regulars have a way of checking to see whether the ballot was cast by a listed Democrat or Republican.
“What was their intent? To throw away ballots?” Rouda said. “There are so many questions that need to be answered.”
Marc Elias, an attorney for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said at the news conference, “We are watching very carefully the steps law enforcement is taking… We appreciate the steps they’ve taken so far, but I can assure you we will protect the voters in California.”
Elias added, “Let’s start with their acknowledging the fact that what they’ve done is illegal,” referring to the admittance that they should not have been labeled as “official.”
Elias said taking off the “official” labels on the boxes does not let the party off the hook and that there need to be “consequences.”
If the Republicans do not abide by the Secretary of State’s order, “They are risking sanctions from the state,” Elias said.
“They are in serious legal jeopardy now for the actions taken and they’re only compounding those, having been warned that what they’re doing is illegal,” Elias said.
“We have not been shy where necessary to engage in voting rights court actions to protect voters. I’m hoping that’s not necessary here.”
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, the deputy chair of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement “ballot harvesting is legal in the state of California.”
“Democrats legalized it, and it is clear with these ballot boxes Republicans are following the laws Democrats put in place,” Calvert said.
“In the face of voter suppression attempts by California Democrats, Republicans have and will continue to be steadfast in defending Californians’ voting rights.”
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