Defiantly doubling down on its contested use of unofficial ballot drop boxes in three counties, the California Republican Party on Wednesday said it would ignore an order from the state's top election official—and a threat of prosecution from its top law enforcement official—and continue operating the bogus boxes.
The Associated Press reports state GOP general counsel Tom Hiltachk asserted that the boxes comply with California's "ballot harvesting" law, which permits voter-authorized collectors to receive ballots from voters and submit them to county elections offices for counting.
"Operating unofficial ballot drop boxes—especially those misrepresented as official drop boxes—is not just misleading to voters, it's a violation of state law."
—Secretary of State Alex Padilla
"The fact that it is a box does not make it illegal," argued Hiltachk, who said the boxes are all locked and monitored. "If we have to use a bag, then we'll use a bag."
On Monday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) filed cease and desist orders against state GOP officials, ordering the boxes removed by October 15 and arguing the unofficial drop boxes it has placed in hotly-contested areas of Fresno, Los Angeles, and Orange counties violate state elections code.
In a joint press conference with Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), Padilla asserted that the only legal ballot boxes are ones operated by state elections officials.
"Let me be clear: unofficial, unauthorized ballot drop boxes are not permitted by state law," Padilla said at the press conference, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, both Democrats, say these unofficial ballot drop boxes are illegal and have ordered Republicans to remove them by Thursday. https://t.co/Hg1L6ahBJ5
— PBS NewsHour (@NewsHour) October 15, 2020
Padilla's office issued guidance (pdf) on Sunday following the first reports of the unauthorized boxes.
"Operating unofficial ballot drop boxes—especially those misrepresented as official drop boxes—is not just misleading to voters, it's a violation of state law," Padilla said in a statement. "My office is coordinating with local officials to address the multiple reports of unauthorized ballot drop boxes. Californians should only use official ballot drop boxes that have been deployed and secured by their county elections office."
However, California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas told ABC 7 News Wednesday that the party is "going to continue this program."
"If he wants to take us to court, we'll see him in court," Barajas said of Padilla.
Collecting ballots is legal in California. However, Padilla explained Monday that voters must authorize collectors, who must sign each envelope and disclose their relationship to the voter. Padilla argued that unofficial drop boxes are not a legitimate form of ballot collecting because there is no identified person authorized by each voter to collect the forms.
"When a voter drops off a ballot in an unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail drop box, no designated 'person' would be signing, as required by state law," Padilla's guidance stated.
Republicans point to a 2018 state law that prohibits disqualification of ballots that lack these signatures as evidence of the legality of their actions. However, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego)—who wrote the law—said it requires voters to give their ballots to a person, "not to put it in an unofficial box sitting outside somewhere."
Regarding the signature requirement, Gonzalez told the Associated Press that she would be "happy to re-write the law so [Republicans] would be punished for their behavior."
Then there is the issue of the boxes themselves. According to state law, a "vote by mail ballot drop box" is defined as "a secure receptacle established by a county or city and county elections official."
However, not only are the GOP boxes not established by any officials, Padilla's office has received reports of bootleg boxes fraudulently labeled as "official."
Not only are state Republicans refusing to remove the boxes, Barajas told the Associated Press Tuesday that the party is considering deploying even more of the contested boxes throughout the state—although they would no longer be falsely labeled as "official."
Barajas called Democrats' anger "overblown."
"In California, where you can have convicted felons and individuals with a criminal history go door to door and collect ballots from voters, Democrats are now upset because organizations, individuals, and groups are offering an opportunity for their friends, family, and patrons to drop off their ballot with someone they know and trust," Barajas told the Bee.
The Republicans' intransigence could have serious consequences, Becerra warned at the press conference and on social media.
Anyone who tampers with the vote is tampering with free and fair elections.
We will do all that's necessary under law to protect Californians' right to vote.
— Xavier Becerra (@AGBecerra) October 12, 2020
"We hope that the message goes out loud and clear to anyone who is trying to improperly solicit, obtain, and manage a citizen's vote that they are subject to prosecution," he said at Monday's press conference. "I'm trying to be careful with how I say this, but the reports we are hearing are disturbing."