The Republican Party has fought across the country to restrict the use of drop boxes for voters to return their mail-in ballots. But in California, the state party has gone in the opposite direction, creating their own ballot boxes and playing so loose with the rules that state has had to step in.
While official drop boxes include extensive security checks and are listed on state government websites, the state Republican Party has created its own DIY versions, placing them at churches, gun stores and gas stations in at least three counties.
On Monday night, the state GOP said it would ignore a cease-and-desist letter from the state’s attorney general and secretary of state’s offices ordering them to stop using unofficial ballot boxes to collect ballots.
“We’re going to continue our ballot harvesting programs,” California Republican Party spokesperson Hector Barajas told CBS13. Barajas said the party would remove the word “official” from the unofficial ballot boxes, but said the boxes themselves would stay put.
“We’ll see you in court,” he added, addressing state officials who’ve called the receptacles illegal.
That was just about the complete opposite of other Republicans’ reactions toward ballot boxes. In Texas, an appeals court on Monday night approved Gov. Greg Abbott’s order limiting drop boxes to just one per county, even in counties like Harris and Travis, which have more residents than many states.
A Republican lawsuit in Pennsylvania to limit drop box use was rejected by a federal judge over the weekend. U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan, a Trump appointee, wrote that plaintiffs hadn’t shown even an impending threat of voter fraud using ballot boxes. Another fight is ongoing in Ohio, where an appeals court recently sided with Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who wants to limit drop box sites to county elections offices.
Some states use “drop boxes” for the collection of Universal Mail-In Ballots. So who is going to “collect” the Ballots, and what might be done to them prior to tabulation? A Rigged Election? So bad for our Country. Only Absentee Ballots acceptable!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 17, 2020
In the cease-and-desist letter on Monday, California officials called the boxes illegal and ordered the state’s Republican Party — as well as the GOP groups in Fresno, Orange, and Los Angeles counties — to stop the “coordination, use and/or false misleading promotion of unauthorized and non-official vote by mail drop boxes.”
“Only county election officials have the authority to determine the number, locations, and hours of vote by mail drop boxes and county elections officials ensure that authorized drop boxes comply with strict requirements that help ensure the security of returned vote-by-mail ballots,” wrote Steve Reyes and Jonathan Wolff, chief counsel for the secretary of state and chief assistant attorney general, respectively.
The GOP drop boxes also aren’t a legitimate form of “ballot harvesting,” the state says, because they don’t include the name, signature and relationship to voters of the individual volunteers collecting voters’ ballots as required by law.
Aside from that, Donald Trump and the national GOP have spent months baselessly asserting that even the legitimate practice is fraudulent.
GET RID OF BALLOT HARVESTING, IT IS RAMPANT WITH FRAUD. THE USA MUST HAVE VOTER I.D., THE ONLY WAY TO GET AN HONEST COUNT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 14, 2020
Still, the President himself, like the California GOP, has tasted the forbidden “ballot harvesting” fruit: His own ballot was delivered to him and returned to Florida election officials by a third-party — a representative of the Florida GOP named Alejandro Garcia, the Palm Beach Post and CNN reported in August.
California officials on Monday demanded that the Republicans turn over any ballots they’ve collected, as well as the information of voters who used the boxes. According to the letter, “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.”
The cease-and-desist letter included pictures of an unofficial ballot box location in Fresno County with a sign falsely advertising a “SECURE BALLOT DROP OF LOCATION.” (The county Republican Party on Monday deleted a list on its website of a dozen such ballot box locations.)
Another unofficial ballot box, in Orange County, went viral after a regional field director for the Republican Party, Jordan Tygh, tweeted a picture of himself in front of the box and urged voters, “DM me for convenient locations to drop your ballot off at!”
Tygh has since deleted the tweet, but it was included in the cease-and-desist letter.