Former Congressman Issa Sues California Over Mail-In Ballots

Darrell Issa. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Joining the chorus of Republicans condemning mail balloting ahead of the November election, former Congressman Darrell Issa on Thursday sued to halt California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order requiring all registered voters receive absentee ballots.

Issa claims the Democratic governor’s Covid-19 safeguard to deter crowding at voting sites exposes local elections — including the congressional district he’s hoping to win-to post-election lawsuits. In a federal lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of California, Issa casts the executive order as an unconstitutional maneuver that rips local control from county election officials.

“Governor Newsom’s vote-by-mail mandate is unconstitutional and may cause the votes of countless voters to be thrown out or not counted,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch that filed on behalf of Issa. “California law prohibits blindly mailing out ballots to every registered voter in the state. This scheme raises the risk of Election Day chaos as well as voter fraud.”

The lawsuit comes two weeks after Newsom issued an emergency declaration and ordered the state’s 58 counties to send vote-by-mail ballots to all registered voters for the presidential election.

Newsom and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla touted the move as means to ease the anxieties of voters worried about being infected with Covid-19 while waiting to perform their civic duty. All voters are slated to receive a ballot yet traditional in-person voting will still be available under the order.

“We want to make people feel like they don’t have to go into a concentrated dense environment to cast their vote,” Newsom said May 8.

After representing his San Diego-area district for nearly two full decades, Issa announced in 2018 he wouldn’t seek reelection. But Issa, who was known as one of the richest members of Congress, has cut retirement short and is pouncing on the opportunity to win the seat of embattled Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter.

Issa finished second in the March primary to Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar and the two will runoff in November in what’s expected to be a close race for California’s 50th Congressional District.

In the 14-page lawsuit, Issa argues Newsom’s executive action is complicating his bid for Congress by forcing the campaign to adapt to a new “electoral system.”

“Now, he must develop a new strategy to reflect that he is no longer running under an electoral system established under California law, but under the ultra vires system set forth in [the order,]” the due process lawsuit states. “As a direct result of [the order], the costs for running for the 50th Congressional District have increased.”

Issa and four registered voters also believe the order was an abuse of executive power and argue only the Legislature can regulate the time, place and manner of presidential elections.

“Defendants’ authority to compel all-mail ballot elections is limited by and cannot go beyond state law,” the suit continues.

President Donald Trump has led the Republican charge against absentee balloting, even threatening via Twitter to deny federal funding to states looking to expand vote-by-mail framework. Earlier this week he claimed Michigan and Nevada were illegally sending mail-in ballots to registered voters before deleting the tweet and replacing it with “applications for ballots.”

Issa’s lawsuit comes as the popularity of early and absentee voting continues to grow in the Golden State, and even if successful it stands little chance of impacting voters’ preference.

A record 9.6 million people voted in the March primary, including 72% by mail. According to state officials, 13 of 15 counties that sent every registered voter a ballot in the mail exceeded the statewide turnout and 75% of voters received a ballot in the mail.

Secretary of State Padilla, who is also named in the lawsuit, ripped Issa and Judicial Watch and accused them of manipulating the public health emergency.

“Exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to justify voter suppression is despicable, even for Judicial Watch’s pathetically low standards. It’s un-American, immoral, and a threat to the health of every Californian,” Padilla said in a statement.

The matter has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Morrison England Jr., who was appointed by George W. Bush in 2002. Issa is asking the judge to enjoin Newsom’s emergency order on the grounds it violates federal and state law.

The plaintiffs also contend the order violates the state’s existing Voter’s Choice Act, which gives individual counties the choice of sending each voter a mail-in-ballot. They warn counties will be forced to adopt a drastically different system that will ultimately lead to “controversies over the validity and legitimacy of the outcomes of the pending federal elections.”

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