On May 12 special elections will be held in three California jurisdictions, including the 25th Congressional District (the seat vacated by Katie Hill). Because the state has been under a “Stay at Home” order since March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered that every voter in the affected areas be mailed a ballot instead of only mailing them to voters registered as “permanent vote by mail” or who requested a mail ballot.
Normally this would be a boon for Democrats because there are so many more ballots out there to be harvested, legally or illegally. In the days of “Stay at Home” orders, though, is the profession of “ballot harvester” considered essential or non-essential?
Obviously, voting (for citizens) is a sacred right and the government should not place extra burdens on people seeking to exercise that right. Ballot harvesting in the time of coronavirus could put both harvesters and voters at risk since there is no way in which it is contact-free. Ballot harvesting workers, who often do not reside in the areas in which they’re working, walk from door to door, picking up envelopes that voters have touched and probably licked. So, the workers could be infected themselves and bring the virus with them into the neighborhood. Or, they could transmit it from one neighbor to another as they harvest. Or, they could pick the virus up from a voter and bring it back to their home neighborhood.
Since Democrats are so dependent on the practice, though, California GOP Chair Jessica Patterson sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a letter requesting clarity on whether ballot harvesting is an essential activity on April 15. She also asked that he clarify that “the existing Stay-at-Home Order prohibits collection of ballots by persons who do not live in the same household as the voter.” The argument from Democrats is that ballot harvesting allows voters who either don’t have transportation to get to the polls or may be disabled or sick to still exercise their right. However, it’s been legal under California law for years for family members of a voter to physically return a ballot to the polling place or place it in the mail, and the voter themselves can mail it in – even without postage.
Newsom did not reply to the letter, so the California GOP filed suit April 29 to force a determination. In a press release, the party argued that Newsom’s silence is irresponsible and that his policies are inconsistent:
“Governor Gavin Newsom has yet to make clear that ballot harvesting stands in direct conflict with the social distancing guidelines he claims to support,” said California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson. “The governor’s stay-at-home order clearly prohibits ballot harvesting, and we are asking him to break his silence and prohibit the practice ahead of California’s Special Elections.
“Governor Newsom has told Californians that they can’t open their businesses, their kids can’t go to school, and they can’t attend family events including weddings and funerals. If we can’t see our mothers on Mother’s Day, then strangers shouldn’t be visiting our homes to collect ballots. He must stop dodging this issue. His silence is irresponsible and is putting Californians’ lives at risk – and without direction from the Democrats in office, we need the courts to weigh in,” concluded Patterson.
In the Complaint, attorney Harmeet Dhillon argued:
“This vagueness, uncertainty, and contradictory nature of Defendants’ Executive Orders and public statements chill the CAGOP’s ability to perform normal campaign activities during the upcoming special election. If all candidates and supporters are not abiding by the same rules, these disparities could have a devastating impact on the integrity of the May 12 election.”
Predictably, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla accused Republicans of attempting to suppress Democrat votes.
California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who is also named in the lawsuit and is currently pushing for a 50-state, vote-by-mail plan ahead of the November presidential election, told CBS News, “this whole debate is nothing but a pretext that Republicans use to advance their voter suppression agenda.”
“Yes, there are numerous public health directives in place,” Padilla acknowledged. “But at the same time, there are fundamental voting rights that are in place and must be protected. There is no conflict. People can reach out to voters and people can exercise multiple ways of voting, while respecting public health directives.”
During Thursday’s news briefing one reason Gov. Newsom gave for the “hard closure” of beaches in Orange County was that it was likely that a good number of people who’d gone to the county’s beaches last weekend had traveled from other counties, possibly became infected, then traveled to their home communities carrying the virus. He also argued that his job as governor was to keep people safe. It’s hypocritical in the extreme (which isn’t surprising) for Newsom to be silent on this issue. But we all know why he is.