California Republicans Say Unauthorized Ballot Drop Boxes Are Legal And Vow To Continue Operating Them

Twitter user Rebecca Albarran posted this photo on Monday of an unofficial ballot drop box outside St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Simi Valley. (Courtesy of Rebecca Albarran.)

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The California Republican Party said Wednesday it will not comply with an order from the Secretary of State and state Attorney General to shut down unauthorized ballot drop boxes that its volunteers and operatives installed at churches and retail locations in Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties.

The boxes are located in highly competitive congressional districts where the GOP is hoping to reclaim seats lost in the 2018 midterms.

The party did, however, say that it would keep the ballot boxes indoors, attended by staff or volunteers, and would drop any signage that claimed they were "official."

Attorneys working for the state GOP responded to cease-and-desist letters from state officials, arguing the practice falls within California's "ballot harvesting" rules.

The program you now falsely claim to be illegal is 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.

Ballot harvesting, or third-party ballot collection, has been legal in California since 2016. Republicans have long argued this opens the system to fraud, but Democrats say it provides greater access to voting for a diverse group of people.

State Democrats sent volunteers door-to-door and collected ballots at rallies during the 2018 midterms, a tactic that's been credited with helping boost the party to victory in several purple congressional districts.


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HOW "BALLOT HARVESTING" WORKS:

On California mail-in ballot return envelopes, there's a section where you can designate an individual to turn in your ballot for you. The person collecting the ballot is supposed to sign the envelope, and commit to dropping it off to election officials within 72 hours. They also cannot be paid for ballot collection.

The California GOP letter argues current law does not require that section of the ballot to be filled out — and the party quotes this provision of AB 306, passed in 2018: "a ballot shall not be disqualified solely because the person authorized to return it did not provide on the identification envelope his or her name, relationship to the voter, or signature."

"There is no law that requires a third-party recipient of a VBM ballot to fill out the identification envelope or imposes any penalty for the failure to do so," California GOP attorneys added.

"It's pretty clear that Democrats only care about ballot harvesting when someone else is doing it," said Jessica Millan Patterson, the chair of the state Republican party, during a conference call with reporters.

The state's top elections official, Secretary of State Alex Padilla, did not appear to be convinced.

"The California Republican Party still has until today to comply with the cease and desist letter," said Sam Mahood, Padilla's spokesman. "We are continuing to explore all of our options and reserve the right to take any action to ensure that state law is followed."

Padilla said earlier this week the Republican ballot boxes have none of the security measures or accountability of official drop boxes operated by county election officials.

A spokesperson for Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in an email, "Our office has received their written response and we're currently reviewing the letter."

The California Democratic Party announced Thursday it will open its "Voter Protection Hotline" on Friday, earlier than planned, because of the controversial ballot box operation. Chairman Rusty Hicks said in a statement the GOP was following "Trump's playbook to lie, cheat and steal" for an electoral win.

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