(CN) — The California Republican Party won a significant legal victory Wednesday, winning the right to keep the location of ballot drop-off boxes secret after a state court judge declined to order the party to disclose details to state officials.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra petitioned the court to intercede in the matter and allow state officials to conduct an immediate investigation into whether the ballot boxes were being used for their intended purposes or for more nefarious attempts at disenfranchisement.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge David Brown issued a one-page form that said there was no immediate harm to voters or to the state.
Becerra can still attempt to get the court to enforce a subpoena that demands the Republican Party divulge information about voters whose ballots have been collected about drop boxes around the state, but is not entitled to immediate redress.
“Judge Brown found that the Attorney General provided no factual basis supporting the state’s demand that we identify the voters who have entrusted us with their ballots,” said Hector Barajas, spokesman for the California Republican Party, in a written statement.
The GOP spokesman noted that Brown mentioned the drop-off boxes promoted by Democratic Congressman Harley Rouda as an example of the same kind of program implemented by the opposite party.
"The California Republican Party will continue to help Californians vote safely and securely by continuing to gather ballots in trusted places, and deliver them promptly according to law,” Barajas said.
Republicans and Democrats have long sparred over the mass collection of ballots via drop-off locations, although historically Republicans have derided the process by labeling it “ballot-harvesting.”
But this year, rather than deriding Democrats for the practice, the party has adopted it, establishing drop-off boxes at locations in communities throughout the entire state. The party insists — as Democrats have in the past — that California law stipulates that a voter may “designate a person” to return their completed ballot to an election office.
Becerra said the drop-off boxes used by the Republican Party are intended to mimic official drop-off boxes installed by counties and sought information regarding the number and precise location of the boxes.
A spokesperson for his office said they are still examining the decision.
“We’re reviewing the matter and, following this morning's procedural hearing, will continue to take steps — including in court where necessary — to ensure that every voter who casts their ballot will have their voices heard,” the spokesperson said in an email.
The tussle over drop-off box locations transpires amid a backdrop of unprecedented voter interest in election integrity issues, as the coronavirus has dramatically increased the use of mail-in ballots, drop-off boxes and other strategies intended to reduce the need for people to vote in person.
This increase has also led some detractors to decry the alternative ways to cast a ballot as subject to greater fraud, harming election integrity. President Donald Trump has been the most notable and outspoken critic of mail-in ballots.
The Republican Party has also been behind most of the pre-election lawsuits attempting to dramatically curtail the use of absentee voting in various states.
Proponents of absentee voting point to a dearth of evidence that the practice is vulnerable to fraud and point to the many and various safeguards states use to ensure ballot integrity, including signature verification, social security numbers and other methods of voter identification.
The parties have long fought over voting issues, with Republicans favoring ID laws and Democrats arguing they disenfranchise minorities and low-income voters who may be more prone to going without official identification.
In the current case, Becerra said the practice of using drop-off boxes raised serious concerns about the chain of custody for the completed ballots and argued the state should have oversight.
The state may eventually prevail in their argument, but for now, Judge Brown said there is nothing so untoward about the California Republican Party’s ballot-collection program as to merit immediate court intervention.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.