California GOP says it won’t remove unofficial ballot boxes
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – After more than 1.5 million votes have been cast, state Republican Party leaders said Wednesday they will not comply with an order from the chief elections official to remove unofficial ballot drop boxes from counties with competitive U.S. House races.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both Democrats, said the drop boxes are illegal. They said voters could confuse the Republican boxes with official ballot drop boxes put in place and monitored by county election officials.
Thomas Hiltachk, the Republican Party’s general counsel, said the boxes comply with California’s “ballot harvesting” law, which lets people collect ballots from voters and return them to county election offices to be counted.
Hiltachk said all of the party’s drop boxes are indoors at county party head
quarters, churches or retailers that agreed to participate. He said the boxes are locked and monitored by people.
“The fact that it is a box does not make it illegal,” Hiltachk said. “If we have to use a bag, then we’ll use a bag.”
Once a voter fills out a ballot, anyone can return it. Most people mail them in prepaid envelopes provided by their county election offices. Others place them in official ballot drop boxes throughout the county.
State law defines a “vote by mail ballot drop box” as a “secure receptacle established by a county or city and county elections official.” The secretary of state has rules about the boxes’ design, how they should be labeled and how often ballots should be retrieved. County election officials decide how many boxes to have and where to put them.
Political parties collect ballots from supporters and return them to county election offices, a practice known as “ballot harvesting.” Some states banned this practice, but it’s legal in California.
Most of the time, ballot harvesting is done by volunteers who go door to door to collect ballots from supporters. This year, Republicans set up boxes for people to drop off their ballots.
Democrats, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, decried the boxes as an attempt to confuse voters. A cease-anddesist order from the secretary of state’s office noted some boxes were put in public places and labeled as official.
Wednesday, Hiltachk blamed “perhaps an overzealous volunteer” for mislabeling drop boxes as “official.” He said none of the boxes carries those labels.
“The letter from the Democrat Secretary of State is a voter suppression effort, aimed at intimidating California Republican Party officials and volunteers from gathering and delivering ballots,” said Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney and member of the Republican National Committee.
Padilla’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Becerra’s office said it received the Republican Party’s response and was reviewing it.
The Secretary of State’s Office reported Wednesday that more than 1.5 million vote-by-mail ballots have been returned. In 2016, 150,000 people had returned their vote-by-mail ballots at this point in the election cycle.
Democratic officials in California say unofficial Republican drop boxes could be confused with official ballot drop boxes.