California GOP Refuses to Take Down Unofficial Ballot Drop Boxes

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a press conference on Oct. 5, 2020, that early voting for the upcoming general election is underway and voters can safely vote by mail or in person. (Courthouse News photo / Martin Macias Jr.)

(CN) — The California GOP announced Wednesday they will ignore any legal demands from the state to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes that sprung up in multiple counties in the last week, gearing up for a potential legal showdown.

California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra sent a joint cease and desist letter to the California GOP and county party chairs on Monday, demanding that any ballots dropped into the unofficial boxes be recorded and returned to county election officials.

The unofficial vote-by-mail drop boxes were reported in Los Angeles, Orange and Fresno counties over the weekend. News broke of the unofficial boxes when a southern California Republican Party field employee tweeted a picture with a ballot next to one of the boxes.

But late on Wednesday, an attorney for the California Republican Party and party chairs in Fresno and Orange counties said similar ballot collection programs were conducted in the 2020 primaries, citing state law that says voters can return their vote-by-mail ballot to anyone they most trust.

“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,” writes attorney Thomas Hiltachk with the Sacramento-based law firm Bell McAndrews Hiltachk.

The letter says the unofficial drop boxes are not unattended, are not placed on the street, the ballots are placed in a secure box and delivered to election officials and the California GOP did not promote these boxes as official.

The California GOP said when they found out there were labels that identified the boxes as official they corrected the error “immediately and within hours.”

Republican officials claim that a 2016 law does not define or restrict how ballots, once they’re collected, should be returned to the county registrar’s office within three days.

The letter said that Democratic Representative Harley Rouda in his re-election campaign describes using hubs to collect ballots as well.

During a Monday press conference Becerra said, “It is illegal, more than illegal, it is irresponsible to tamper with a citizen’s vote.”

But the California Republican Party said everything they have done is entirely legal.

“The Attorney General’s arguments are partisan fear-mongering and blatant voter suppression” said co-chair of the Republican National Lawyers Association Harmeet Dhillon in a statement that accompanied the GOP’s response letter to California officials. Dhillon is also the RNC Committeewoman from California.

“What Democrats don’t like, is that Republicans are utilizing the very same techniques they do, and they are willing to suppress Republican votes and try to bully, threaten, and intimidate us into stopping our programs so that voters can continue to give their ballots to door-to-door union operatives with no safety or security measures in place, while our locked boxes are banned.”

Padilla and Becerra did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday evening. The cease and desist letter provided the California GOP until Thursday to comply with the legal demand, but both offices said they were “prepared to take action to enforce state law, should it become necessary.”

Padilla’s office said anyone who sets up a vote-by-mail ballot drop box could face felony charges as only county election officials can designate ballot drop-off locations, the office said.

In an email, Padilla noted the California GOP has until the end of Thursday to comply with the cease and desist letter.

“We are continuing to explore all of our options and reserve the right to take any action to ensure that state law is followed. I will keep you posted should something change,” Padilla said.

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