SACRAMENTO — California officials on Monday sent the state Republican Party a cease-and-desist notice to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes, while Gov. Gavin Newsom slammed the party as “willing to lie, cheat, and threaten our democracy all for the sake of gaining power.”
The controversy comes as the two major parties feud nationally over how the November election is being conducted during the pandemic.
Impact: If the California GOP doesn’t comply with the cease-and-desist from Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra by Thursday, the party could be prosecuted.
A Republican spokesperson said Monday that the party would continue to collect ballots with drop boxes.
Background: Third-party collection of ballots is legal in California as long as a voter signs the outside of their ballot to authorize someone else to return it for them. State Democrats deployed it as a mass practice in the 2018 midterms by organizing volunteers to pick up ballots from voters, an effort that Republicans called “ballot harvesting.”
GOP leaders blamed the practice for their major electoral losses that year. Heading into 2020, however, party officials said they intended to boost their own efforts to collect ballots.
Still, President Donald Trump has derided the practice as fraudulent and used it as one example to sow doubt about the integrity of elections this year as polls show he is trailing by a wide margin.
Details: Padilla and Becerra said during a Monday press conference that the California GOP’s recent placement of unauthorized drop boxes in Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange counties is different from Democratic efforts because the voter assumes their ballot will be delivered via an official-looking mechanism — all without signing their ballots.
Only counties are allowed to install drop boxes, which are subject to state security standards.
Padilla said his office on Sunday issued guidance to counties about rules tied to drop boxes, followed by the Monday cease-and-desist notices sent both to the state and county-level Republican parties. “The reports that we are hearing are disturbing,” Becerra said. “It is illegal, but more than just illegal, it is irresponsible to tamper with a citizen’s vote.”
Newsom voiced a much blunter assessment, tweeting Monday, “Nothing reeks of desperation quite like the Republican Party organization these days — willing to lie, cheat, and threaten our democracy all for the sake of gaining power.”
Reaction: California GOP spokesperson Hector Barajas argued that the drop boxes are the same as in-person ballot collection.
“In California, where you can have convicted felons and individuals with a criminal history go door-to-door and collect ballots from voters, Democrats are now upset because organizations, individuals and groups are offering an opportunity for their friends, family, and patrons to drop off their ballot with someone they know and trust.”
“If Democrats are so concerned with ballot harvesting, they are the ones who wrote the legislation, voted for it, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law. California Republicans would be happy to do away with ballot harvesting,” Barajas added. “We are continuing [with our] ballot harvesting program.”
The other side of the aisle decried the state GOP. California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks said in a statement, “Sadly, this is par for the course from the Republican Party — well-versed in making it harder, not easier for Californians to vote. California Democrats are committed to the right of all registered voters to fully, fairly and equally access the ballot box. And we intend to defend that right in 2020.”
What’s next: Padilla said if the state and county Republican parties choose not to comply with the cease-and-desist by Oct. 15, “We will entertain all of our legal options to do whatever it takes to protect voters and the integrity of this election,” including criminal prosecution and civil action.
Look for Republicans to defend the legality with their own lawyers and use it as an opportunity to highlight Democrats’ own ballot collection efforts.
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