California Republican Party officials announced Wednesday that the party will challenge the cease and desist order issued by Secretary of State Alex Padilla and Attorney General Xavier Becerra regarding private ballot collection boxes placed by the party in battleground districts throughout the state, daring state officials to take them to court.
In the cease and desist order/letter, Becerra and Padilla set a deadline of close-of-business, Thursday, October 15, for the party to:
“[A]rrange to provide county elections officials with the names, addresses and birth date information of those voters who have dropped off their ballot in these unauthorized drop boxes…The County Registrars of Voters will contact these individuals to advise them of their options to verify the return status of their vote-by-mail ballot. Additionally, provide us with the number and location of each unofficial drop box deployed.”
Party spokesperson Hector Barajas told reporters that the party would not be providing anyone with information about the number and location of the drop boxes and that, in fact, they are planning to expand the program. It looks like they’re heeding President Trump’s words:
Fight hard Republicans. They have been taking advantage of the system for years! https://t.co/vaToeGjrHG
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2020
As I wrote in the initial story on the topic, ballot collection boxes are a pandemic-friendly way of doing ballot harvesting, and the California Republican Party argues that they are fully legal under the state’s vague ballot harvesting law. Now it seems that Republicans weren’t the only ones with that thought. First-term Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Orange County), who’s locked in a tough re-election battle with Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, has placed 11 “physical ballot hubs” throughout the district “to ensure easy and accessible ballot drop offs for voters.” From the Rouda campaign’s GOTV Manual, obtained by the California Republican Party (emphasis added):
Not to fear, we have safe systems in place to reach out to voters and collect ballots that won’t risk people’s lives! We will be using virtual zoom rooms, which we are calling “Virtual Staging Locations,” as central “locations” for phone banking and voter contact done from home. We will also have physical ballot hubs in eleven of the cities in CA-48 to ensure easy and accessible ballot drop offs for voters.
Interestingly, Rouda was one of the Democrats decrying the private boxes just a few days ago, telling reporters:
“My opponent and the GOP are clearly engaging in heinous and illegal acts of election fraud.”
More about Rouda and his engagement in heinous and illegal acts of election fraud later.
Critics of the GOP’s boxes argue that:
- by using the word “official” on the boxes they’re misleading voters;
- While the law allows a voter to entrust “a person” to return their ballot, that the “person” must attest to receiving the ballot and list their relationship to the voter;
- A ballot box is not the same thing as “a person”;
- There is no chain of custody for these ballots like there is for those placed in official drop boxes; and
- Unmanned ballot boxes out in the middle of nowhere are subject to being broken into.
Padilla and Becerra have also expressed concern that not all of the ballots would be promptly and properly delivered to elections officials. These concerns are all invalid for various reasons, which will be listed below.
CAGOP officials held a press call Wednesday to address those points, and spokesperson Hector Barajas appeared on an NPR affiliate to take questions. Officials said that materials they provided with the boxes did not include the word “official,” and that they would ensure that the word “official” would be taken off any boxes to which it had been added.
Barajas also said that boxes had been placed inside of businesses, churches, or county headquarters, are monitored, and that ballots are delivered to county elections officials within 72 hours as required by law.
In addition, party officials and other journalists have pointed out that, according to a 2018 amendment to the 2016 ballot harvesting law (effective January 1, 2019), while there is a place on a ballot return envelope for the “harvester” or “person” to sign that they took possession of the envelope and list their relationship to the voter, if that section isn’t filled out, the ballot is still legal and will be counted.
The original law doesn’t provide for a chain of custody beyond knowing what date the voter gave their ballot to the harvester and the date it was delivered to the official. Even if the ballot was delivered outside the 72-hour window, California election law is to be interpreted in the light most favorable to the voter, and a voter using a vote-by-mail ballot has to be afforded the opportunity to “cure” any deficiencies before the ballot is tossed.
And, as I wrote way back in December 2019 and January 2020, elections officials don’t ask for any ID from a person delivering one or more (or 200,000) ballots, so there’s no way to know if the name they provided as harvester is actually their name. They also don’t ask for any contact information or where the ballots were stored. So, there is no chain of custody in the way anyone who’s ever been involved in a criminal case understands the term.
And, what exactly is “a person” under the law? Attorney Harmeet Dhillon explains:
A “person” under the law has a broad meaning. @CAGOP and our volunteers are fully aware of the three day requirement and are following it. There is NOTHING illegal about what Republicans are doing. https://t.co/eGvdkpZOPT
— Harmeet K. Dhillon (@pnjaban) October 14, 2020
In a reply sent to Padilla and Becerra, the party lays out their position:
“The California Republican Party opposes ballot harvesting and wishes you had enacted adequate ballot security provisions after the laws were changed,” the party wrote in a letter to Padilla Wednesday. “Its program of collecting (not soliciting) VBM ballots from voters who voluntarily choose to entrust their ballot to the Party volunteers, is more secure, by far, than the door-to-door solicitation we have seen from the Democrat Party.”
“In this case, voters have decided, for themselves, that they trust the staff and volunteers at their local political Party headquarters, or their church, or a business that they patronize, to securely deliver their completed VBM ballot to the appropriate election official.
And that is a point I made on a soon-to-be-released podcast on the topic. Democrats go door-to-door soliciting ballots and even post up in nursing homes to “help” residents complete their ballots. All in the name of community service, of course. In the case of these drop boxes, a voter must take action to knowingly deliver their ballots.
In the case of Rep. Harley Rouda, his “ballot hubs” can even be located on a porch or outside of someone’s home, and are staffed by volunteers. Again from Rouda’s GOTV manual:
What is a Harley Neighborhood Ballot Hub?
A location in a particular city where voters can drop off their ballots. For example, it would be a porch or outside of someone’s home so it can be socially distanced
– Needs WIFI
– Staffed by a volunteer ballot collector
What do these volunteer ballot collectors do?
● Tends to the ballot hub
● Collects ballots and ensures all information is logged and tracked
● Reports out with every ballot dropped off via google form: hr4oc.us/BallotDropoff
● Should be on a porch or outdoor area where a person can sit for a long period of time in WIFI
■ The ballot collector will go through the same google form situation with every ballot collected and into a specific folder
■ The organizers will pick up the collected ballots at the end of the day
Hmm, that sounds just like what Republican ballot collectors do. But somehow it’s illegal and nefarious when they do it.
Why is this so important? Why can’t they just vote in person on Election Day? Put simply, it saves campaign resources for turning out voters who are not as enthusiastic about voting. When the campaign knows which ballots have been returned (the voter’s name and address are on the outside of the envelope) they can remove that voter’s name from their voter contact database and will stop sending physical mail, texts, emails, and directing phone calls to encourage that person to vote.
Hector Barajas and other California GOP officials are 100 percent correct. All this is about is Democrats’ anger that Republicans aren’t meekly staying away from ballot harvesting “on principle,” the way they did in 2018.
Oh, and it also takes attention off of something our (new contributor) Jennifer Oliver O’Connell covered Wednesday: the California Secretary of State’s office spent an unbudgeted $35 million on a get-out-the-vote contract with Team Biden’s PR firm – a firm which has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars to target California Republicans in swing districts. No conflict of interest there, right? No possibility of impropriety?
What steps Padilla and Becerra will take next remain to be seen, but it would be interesting to see them in court arguing against expanding voting access or attempting to disenfranchise people who put their ballots in these drop-boxes.