The California Republican Party said it will continue to illegally collect ballots in unofficial drop boxes in spite of a cease-and-desist from top California officials, and gained a new ally: the president of the United States.
The California GOP admitted this week to placing ballot drop boxes labeled “official” in at least three counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, and Fresno, and was hit with a cease-and-desist from the state Attorney General and Secretary of State demanding that they remove the boxes by October 15. GOP spokesperson Hector Barajas said the party would stop labeling the drop boxes as “official,” but is otherwise considering expanding the program, he told the AP.
“It gives voters another opportunity to be able to turn in their ballots if they choose to do so,” he said. “This is just another option.”
Barajas also indicated the California GOP is prepared to fight a legal battle. “We are going to continue this program. If [Secretary of State Alex Padilla] wants to take us to court, then we'll see him in court,” Barajas told KABC.
The state party claims that the ballot box operation is legal under an adjustment California’s ballot collection law passed in 2016 and signed by former California Gov. Jerry Brown, which “authorize[s] the designation of any person to return a vote by mail ballot,” including campaign workers. The state Republican Party sued Gov. Gavin Newsom over the law earlier this year. (Newsom tweeted Tuesday that the GOP’s boxes “are illegal and must be removed.”)
The author of that legislation, Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, denied that this is legal under the law she put forward.
“Apparently, Republicans in our legislature think that when I wrote that a voter could designate a 'person' to turn in their ballot, they thought I meant a fraudulently labeled box,” Gonzalez wrote in a tweet Tuesday. “I'm terribly sorry. I will define person next time.”
President Donald Trump, who has railed against mail-in voting and so-called “ballot harvesting,” encouraged Republicans to fight the state Tuesday. “You mean only Democrats are allowed to do this?” Trump said. “But haven’t the Dems been doing this for years? See you in court. Fight hard Republicans!”
Trump followed it up with another tweet Wednesday morning. “Fight hard Republicans,” Trump said. “They have been taking advantage of the system for years!”
Trump is almost certainly going to lose California by a wide margin, as no Republican has won the state since 1988 and Hillary Clinton won there by more than 4 million votes in 2016. But there are expected to be several close races in House seats flipped by Democrats in 2018, including the Orange County-seat currently held by freshman Rep. Harley Rouda.
Rouda said the GOP was “targeting my race” and alleged that his opponent, Republican Michelle Steel, was complicit in a “criminal plot” in a tweet Tuesday.
Steel distanced herself from the state party’s operation on Tuesday. “I don't condone any unofficial means of collecting ballots,” she said in a statement to KABC. “Every vote counts, and we must ensure ballots are turned in and counted responsibly and legally.”