By Alina Sturgess
The state of California has issued cease-and-desist orders to the California Republican Party and local GOP officials in the counties of Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange after unofficial and possibly illegal ballot boxes were found in those counties.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra tweeted an official statement Monday following a joint press conference with Secretary of State Alex Padilla that addressed the reports of unofficial ballot boxes.
“The California Republican Party, Fresno County Republican Party, Los Angeles County Republican Party, and Republican Party of Orange County must cease and desist the coordination, use, or false or misleading promotion of unauthorized and non-official vote by mail drop boxes,” Becerra said.
The Californian Republican Party responded with a statement that stands by the use of the unofficial ballot boxes and equates them to ballot harvesting.
“The Democrat anger is overblown when state law allows organizations, volunteers or campaign workers to collect completed ballots and drop them off at polling places or election offices. If Democrats are so concerned with ballot harvesting, they are the ones who wrote the legislation, voted for it, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. California Republicans would be happy to do away with ballot harvesting.”
Ballot harvesting has been considered a controversial practice that both Democrats and Republicans have expressed concerns over, despite being widely used and with few reported instances of abuse. While it is not an official term, ballot harvesting is used to describe collecting absentee ballots on behalf of others and submitting their ballot for them. In 2016, ballot harvesting was made legal in California and is legal in many other states across the U.S.
GOP leaders say that the legality of ballot harvesting protects the use of the unauthorized ballot boxes despite them being different ways of turning in votes. Representative Ken Calvert (CA-42) issued a statement in response to California leaders’ cease-and-desist letter.
“Are we really supposed to believe it’s fine for paid Democrat operatives to collect ballots from strangers and throw them in a bag, but churches aren’t allowed to collect them for members of their congregation and put them in a box? Attempts by either the Secretary of State or county election officials to stop churches from collecting ballots under California’s third-party ballot collection laws are an act of voter suppression and possibly a civil rights violation,” wrote Calvert.
State officials say that these unofficial drop boxes are not covered by the ballot collection laws that cover ballot harvesting.
“The problem here is with voters unknowingly delivering their ballots to an unofficial drop box mislabeled and misrepresented as an official drop box, they do not know who it is they’re surrendering their ballot. The impression voters have with the words ‘official drop box’ is that they’re surrendering it to a county official. And that’s not the case,” Padilla stated at the press conference Monday.
Republican groups and officials have not committed to removing the ballot boxes despite the cease-and-desist orders from the secretary of state and attorney general. The boxes must be removed by Thursday, officials said.
In a statement to NPR, California GOP spokesperson Hector Barajas stated: “We are going to respond to the letter, continue our ballot harvest program and not allow the secretary of state to suppress the vote.”
In a telephone conference Wednesday, state GOP officials said the party is “looking at potentially expanding” its number of ballot boxes and that it plans to file its reply by Thursday.