California AG and Secretary of State send cease and desist to Republicans over unofficial ballot box

The California Secretary of State and Department of Justice have sent a cease and desist order to the state’s Republican Party after they admitted to placing illegal boxes for ‘friends, family, and patrons to drop off their ballot with someone they know and trust.’

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla issued a memo Sunday telling county registrars that ‘in short, providing unauthorized, non-official vote-by-mail ballot drop boxes is prohibited by state law’ and that ballots must be mailed or brought to official voting locations.

But on Monday, state GOP spokesman Hector Barajas said that the party owns the unofficial boxes which have been labeled ‘official’ and has no plans to remove them.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra described the non-compliance as ‘disturbing.’

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (left) spoke Monday about a cease and desist order sent to the state Republican party regard unofficial ballot boxes. Attorney General Xavier Becerra (right) described the non-compliance of the state GOP as ‘disturbing’

A regional field director for the state’s GOP posed in a social media photo with one of the boxes and wearing a face covering supporting the congressional campaign of Michelle Steel. But Padilla said it’s illegal for the unofficial boxes to pose as official

The controversy surfaced after state election officials received reports of the boxes in Fresno, Los Angeles and Orange counties, all regions with highly competitive US House races.

In Orange County, which is home to 3 million people between Los Angeles and San Diego, a regional field director for the state’s GOP posed in a social media photo with one of the boxes and wearing a face covering supporting the congressional campaign of Michelle Steel. 

The county supervisor challenging Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda for his seat representing a coastal district. Rouda flipped the seat two years ago from a long-time conservative.

There were reports of similar drop boxes at Freedom’s Way Baptist Church in Santa Clarita, California, where the pastor told CNN: ‘Isn’t church pretty safe? In a safe location with people they trust rather than handing it over to a stranger who knocks on their door, which is something called ballot harvesting.’

Various other box locations were in Fresno County in California’s farm-rich Central Valley, including party headquarters, a gas station and gun shops.

Mail-in voting and absentee ballots both have a history of rare voter fraud due to systems set in place by states, however President Trump has cast doubt over mail-in voting yet not absentee ballots which are also mailed in.

Voters cast their ballots for the 2020 US Elections at an official ballot drop box on a sidewalk in Los Angeles, California on Monday

Trump claimed at the first presidential debate that ballots of people voting for him were found dumped in a river however his administration failed to elaborate on details when probed.

In Orange County, Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said official drop boxes are clearly recognizable and carry official county elections logo. 

He said it wasn’t clear how many voters had used unofficial boxes but after receiving reports about them, he notified the state and district attorney’s office, which is investigating.

In California, ballot harvesting is allowed under certain rules. Election officials said individual voters can ask someone else to turn in a ballot on their behalf but should be careful when doing so. They are not allowed to be dropped in unofficial boxes.

‘This procedure has been in place since 2016 — not sure why people are all of a sudden surprised,’ the California GOP tweeted comparing the boxes to ballot harvesting.

However Padilla, a Democrat, said the new GOP boxes do not meet the requirements of the 2016 law.

Padilla noted that the problem was unofficial boxes posing as ‘official.’

‘These unauthorized drop boxes are a disservice to state and local election administrators who have spent months working on the placement and deployment of official ballot drop boxes,’ California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a virtual conference on Monday.

Democrats criticized use of the boxes and said they want those using them held accountable. Rachel Potucek, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Orange County, said she didn’t know what Republicans planned to do with the ballots they collected and worried they could target Democratic areas with boxes to suppress votes.

‘Sadly, this is par for the course from the Republican Party — well versed in making it harder, not easier for Californians to vote,’ Rusty Hicks, California Democratic Party Chair, said in a statement.

Fresno County Republicans said they will remove the boxes and ballots will be turned in to county election officials, which was always the plan, the Sacramento Bee reported Party Chair Fred Vanderhoof saying.

But Vanderhoof added to CNN, ‘We have a hypocritical situation.’

‘Democrats only seem to object to ballot harvesting when someone else does it,’ California Republican Party spokesman Hector Barajas said. ‘We’re not going to stop this program.’

Barajas told CNN that ‘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.’

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