California AG (Illogically) Orders State GOP to Dismantle Ballot Harvesting Boxes

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Over the weekend ballot collection boxes sponsored by the California GOP were set up in numerous counties throughout the state, including Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, and Ventura, presumably in an effort to conduct pandemic-friendly ballot harvesting, which is legal in the state. Word of the boxes’ existence spread quickly on social media, with the state’s Democrats suddenly clutching their pearls and worrying about ballot security.

By Monday afternoon, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla sent a cease and desist letter to the California GOP and the party chairs in three counties, ordering them to “to cease and desist the coordination, use and/or false or misleading promotion of unauthorized and non-official vote by mail drop boxes.” During a press conference announcing the action, Padilla said the private dropboxes were illegal:

“Misleading voters is wrong, regardless of who is doing it. Political parties and campaigns can engage in get out the vote efforts, but they cannot violate state law. The unofficial, unauthorized drop boxes in question violate state law and jeopardize the security of voters’ ballots. State and local elections officials have worked tirelessly to provide voters multiple safe, secure options to return their vote-by-mail ballots. These unauthorized drop boxes are a disservice to elections administrators and a disservice to voters who deserve to cast their ballots with clarity and confidence.”

Becerra followed up with:

“There is nothing more precious or fundamental in a real democracy than the vote. Anyone who tampers with the vote is tampering with free and fair elections. We will do all that’s necessary under law to protect Californians’ right to vote.”

Neither cited a specific section of law during the press conference, but in the letter, they cited ballot harvesting laws, which do not prohibit the things they say they prohibit. (Again, imagine that!)

Now, I would never drop my ballot in a private dropbox or even in a USPS mailbox. I voted “by mail” in this year’s primary and in the May 12 special election and both times I dropped my ballot in a county-monitored official dropbox at my city hall. As Ellie Bufkin of our sister site Townhall wrote:

“Unbelievably, I tend to agree with the Democrats on this. Depositing a ballot at a super shady looking box with a homemade sign is about 10 steps removed from voting with confidence. But is it any better than handing over your ballot to a stranger at your doorstep who crosses his or her heart that they’re taking their big bag of ballots to the election center?”

As Ellie referenced, under California’s ballot harvesting law (authored by our favorite, Lorena Gonzalez) a voter can designate “a person” of their choice to take their ballot to county elections officials. And since a number of these private dropboxes are located at churches and were even advertised by said churches in their newsletters, if a voter trusts that method of returning their ballot, that’s their choice.

And Secretary Padilla agreed – in 2018. After the Democrat “Blue Wave” in California was attributed to ballot harvesting, Padilla defended the practice, saying:

“In California, we’re expanding opportunities for eligible citizens to register to vote and for registered voters to cast their ballot. These opportunities include in-person early voting, the option to vote-by-mail, and giving voters the power to decide who they most trust to return their vote-by-mail ballot for them if they so choose.

“As other states are rolling back voting rights, California is modernizing our elections and making it easier for all eligible citizens to participate.”

At that time, Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) said:

“When unknown third parties are handling hundreds or thousands of ballots with no transparency, voters are understandably concerned. Our election laws should always be focused on what protects the confidence and integrity of our elections, not what gives one party an advantage over the other.”

And a former federal prosecutor said:

“Under California’s election laws, it won’t require the iron-fisted control of a political boss or a powerful machine to improperly affect election outcomes. Registration is automatic, any ballot can be marked in unknown circumstances and any interested person can collect and deliver it (or not).”

Which are the arguments Attorney General Becerra and Secretary Padilla are now making, because 2020 is Opposite World.

In the cease and desist letter and in press appearance, state officials claim that “voters must know specifically who is returning their ballot,” which isn’t entirely true.

“Use of these ballot drop boxes calls into question compliance with CA Elections Code 3017 and 3011, which allows voters to designate an individual to return their ballot. Any individual returning a ballot on behalf of a voter must provide their name, signature, and relation to the voter on the return envelope. Voters must know who specifically is returning their ballot.”

Oh, really? How many voters in 2018 in California’s 25th Congressional District (yes, the Katie Hill one) knew “Lulu”?

And in the 2020 primary, how many people knew the random Unite Here Local 11 union representatives who collected their ballots at a “ballot party” in Orange County? Led by Orange County Democrats chair Ada Briceno, who’s also a union boss, the party gave union members “information about everything” and served as a ballot collection checkpoint:

“The occasion was a union-sponsored ballot party. Union leaders, O.C. Democratic representatives, as well as local candidates, were on site to register first-time voters, familiarize people with their local candidates and even collect ballots.”

Padilla also claimed, “You and the other person must sign the back of the return envelope,” which also isn’t entirely true.  As the Los Angeles Times’ John Myers notes, because of a follow-up law to the ballot harvesting law, also authored by Lorena Gonzalez (because the woman simply cannot pass clear, concise legislation that doesn’t need clearing up later), a voter’s ballot will not be disqualified if the harvester doesn’t fill out their portion of the ballot.

That tweet earned Myers a reply from Gonzalez herself, in which she argued that the “chain of custody is important.”

Ahh, so much to debunk in one tweet. Gonzalez argues that the law states that a voter can give a ballot to “a person,” but not leave it in an unofficial box, while knowing that her compatriot Ada Briceno was organizing ballot parties where union members get educated about their ballot options then leave their ballot… in a box.

Ohhhhhkay. Clearly who “exactly” returns the ballot is crucial for former union bosses.

Gonzalez also states that the three-day requirement is necessary for establishing a chain of custody. But, elections officials are instructed to liberally construe the statutes and regulations in favor of the voter, and since there is no verification of just who turns in ballots (remember, Orange County, CA had 200,000 ballots turned in on Election Night 2018 – who knows 200,000 people!?), what does the chain of custody really matter?

To its credit, the California GOP announced they plan to ignore the cease and desist letter. Spokesman Hector Barajas issued a statement saying:

“In California, we have convicted felons and individuals with a criminal history go door to door and collect ballots from voters. Democrats are now upset because organizations, individuals, and groups are offering an opportunity for their friends, family, and patrons to drop off their ballot with someone they know and trust. The Democrat anger is overblown when state law allows organizations, volunteers, or campaign workers to collect completed ballot and drop them off at polling places or election offices.

“If Democrats are so concerned with ballot harvesting, they are the ones who wrote the legislation, voted for it, and Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law. California Republicans would be happy to do away with ballot harvesting.”

Judging by the tweets of newly-elected California State Senator Melissa Melendez, the party plans to fight. Melendez reminded the Dem aristocracy and anyone else who would listen that, according to the places where the California Elections Code is silent, the California GOP isn’t doing anything illegal at all:

As the Los Angeles Times’ John Myers tweeted, there is no evidence that Republicans placed the private dropboxes with ill intent. They simply, amazingly, decided to utilize the laws Democrats passed to help themselves, to their own advantage. Refusing to bow to the demands of Becerra and Padilla is the right move. Let them attempt to arrest people.

Besides, no one can take Padilla’s argument seriously – the man just issued emergency regulations allowing people to mark their sample ballots and return those instead of the actual ballots, and to even scribble their votes on a notecard and mail them in. He has zero moral authority behind his attempts to shame the California GOP.

Jennifer Van Laar





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